Essential Sports Nutrition


Kona RR: 2.4 mile swim

I found from a very young age that I was born to be a swimmer. Chlorine and a bathing suit were my two best friends, alongside goggles and a cap to match. I loved to swim…and the cute boys in speedo’s were an added bonus.  In high school and college, I specialized in 200 butterfly, 200 IM and 100 breakstroke but never really enjoyed “distance” swimming.

Who would have thought that in 2006, I would be standing at my first Ironman start line in Panama City Beach, about to swim 2.4 miles in the ocean and commence on the longest day of my life. A day that made me excited because it was finally here and I could put months of training to the test, but also a day that made me nervous for the unknown is a scary thing.  The Ironman race day was overwhelming before it even started because I was asking a lot from my 24 year old body to prepare for the event and to arrive to the starting line healthy and injury free and after we succeed in that task, I then had to ask my body to work for 140.6 miles, hopefully without fail so that I could finish what I started and earn my well-deserved medal and t-shirt.

IMFL 2006

Very new to the sport, I kept focused only on myself. I didn’t know the other 10 girls in my 18-24 age group or what it would feel like to cross the finish line so I figured the only thing within my control was how I planned to execute on race day. Someone it all worked out because I had a dream. To be an Ironman. A dream that woke me up every morning to discover the impossible and to challenge my “I can’t do this” thoughts. One day, that dream turned into a reality and after swimming 2.4 miles, riding 112 miles and running 26.2 miles, my swimmer turned triathlete body was nearing the finish line of my first Ironman. And even more exciting, I was won my age group by 50 minutes and secured the only slot in my age group to race in the Ironman World Championship the next year.

It’s easy to describe the beautiful ocean in Kona, Hawaii. It’s like swimming in a fish tank with sea turtles and brightly colored fish all around you.

There are dolphins playing in the distance and a garden of coral under your feet. It is truly paradise and makes even the most inexperienced swimmer feel comfortable in the big blue sea.

But the Ironman World Championship swim is hard to describe. The fishies and sea turtles are still there but they know better than to be around 2000+ athletes fighting for pockets of clean water.

 The garden of coral is hidden due to choppy water and the dolphins are likely laughing at us from afar, as our swimming has nothing to do with efficiency and we are far from swimming beautifully in the water.

The start of an Ironman swim is chaotic and so is the rest of it.

 In my last two Ironman articles, I discussed smart swimming and mastering the mass start. The IM World Championship is an entirely different beast for instead of 100ish Kona contenders in the water at a respective Ironman event, the playing field is even. Certainly, there are different calibers of swimming ability but every athlete has earned his/her spot to race in Kona because they are a fast and smart all-around Ironman athlete.
The Ironman World Championship swim course is an out and back course with a right hand turn around the Body Glove boat.

Typically, the swim out to the boat is congested, especially at the beginning. After floating in the water for 15 minutes, the feeling is extreme when 2000+ carbo-loaded (and likely caffeinated) bodies, that are anxious to explode with movement, all are set free by a cannon explosion.  Despite the Ironman being all about pacing and endurance, the beginning of the Kona swim is fast…and involves very few swimming strokes. It’s survival to the first buoy and the hope that there is clean water to at least put all that pool work to good use.
Having experience at Kona allowed me to PR my overall time, as well as setting a swim, bike and run PR for my 3rd Ironman World Championship.

Knowing how exhausting it can be to swim in Kona among so many talented athletes, I decided to be smart on the swim. There's a saying that you can't win the race in the swim. Well, you can absolutely exit the water feeling exhausted and question how the rest of the day will go. If you don't pace your race, all those long training hours on the weekends will be of waste.

I trained hard for Kona so I trusted my swim ability entering the race. But, my goal at Kona was to race as smart as possible. So, instead of fighting for a faster time, I choose to let others do the work and I would just swim steady. I did not try to fight, I did not get aggressive and I was not worried about my time. I had a goal of 1:03-1:05 for the swim (my PR swim is 1:01.10 – with wetsuit at IM Lake Placid) here in Kona but even if I was over that, I was not going to let it run or ruin my day. My #1 goal for the swim was to exit the water feeling fresh and energized to bike for 112 miles (also knowing that a 26.2 mile run in the heat was going to end my day).

I found a few pockets of clean water which made me smile, until those pockets were filled with faster athletes behind me and us catching up with slower athletes. This boxing-like atmosphere continued for the entire swim, although there were moments when the fight was not as aggressive. Like in any race, every high has a low to follow and every low will reach a high. The goal for the IM swim is to just keep moving. No matter your fitness ability, just stay calm and know that you have the entire day ahead.

As I neared the Body Glove boat, I checked my 910XT watch (set on multisport zone) and it read 30 minutes – wow! So impressed with this time, I was really happy that I was able to swim smoothly in the water (haha – ok, relatively smooth despite a few smacks on my body). But, I didn’t let it get to my head. I kept with the same effort as I found myself in a group of blue (male) caps and figured it would be good to draft with them as oppose to looking for clean water and risk a faster/slower time with more energy expenditure.

I stuck with this group in the choppy water, which always feels a bit worse on the way home. I didn’t sight very much as I knew we were all heading in the same direction and I managed to stay rather close to the buoys to know I was on course with my other dozens of new swimming buddies.

The pier seemed to be non-existent. I didn’t want to look at my watch too much to get disappointed but I checked the yards and it read 3400 (4200 yards in the IM 2.4 mile swim). Whewww, almost there. Now where is the pier? Finally, I lifted my head up and I could see the transition area and people alongside the water’s edge.

The water became very choppy and very congested all at once. I seemed to be stuck in a crowd with no where to go so as I glanced at my watch, clicking past 1:05, I knew I was going to be a bit over my goal pace but there was nothing I could do about it. I somehow made my way through the mess of athletes and once my 5 foot body could touch the ocean floor, I unzipped my speed suit – oh wait, never mind – I didn’t have one!

So, with one less thing to worry about as I was running out of the water, I found a spot on the staircase to carefully run up and I removed my cap and goggles and I ran through the hoses to rinse off. Oh – so refreshing after swimming in salt water for 1 hour and 7 minutes.

I ran toward the transition bags and grabbed my swim to bike bag (socks, compression calf sleeves, Commit Oakley Women glasses, endurance aminos in coin purse, tums/salt tabs in pill container, gel flask and towel) and ran into the women’s changing tent. The tent was rather full with women but a volunteer ran over to me and helped me out with my gear.

Karel instructed me to grab what I could and to get out of transition ASAP. I did as I was told by coach Karel and once I put on my socks, compression calf sleeves and Bontrager Hilo Tri shoes (the volunteer helped me as needed) I grabbed my glasses and pocket stuff and headed out of transition.  I had a bit of a run to my bike and helmet so I put the loose items in my pockets and put on my shades.

I found my bike in transition – in front of a light pole which was easy to spot. I spotted my helmet (required on the bike) and started my Garmin 500 in transition (turned on) so it would pick up satellite. My Lazer helmet has a magnet buckle so that was really  quick to put on - no time wasted there. My Garmin 910 on my wrist was on T1 lap time and I  hit lap once again I got on the bike.
I was smiling ear to ear as I was running with my bike for now it was the time I had been waiting for for a very long time.

The next 112 miles were years in the making. From a swimmer turned triathlete who was scared to clip in, use my aero bars and often to get out of the saddle.  It was time to show myself, and only myself (ok – Coach/hubby Karel as well as he can take a lot of credit for my body adapting to cycling training stress alongside better skills/confidence on the bike since we met May 2006) that I could bike 112 miles in record time. I had worked very hard for this bike ride and I was not going to let a 2.4 mile swim, a tad over my “goal” time, keep me from doing the possible.

I hit start on my Garmin 500 after I clipped in and off I went….PR bike, here I come…..

112 mile be continued.


Kona finisher RR: Pre race swim

Why do you sign up for races?

In my opinion, there are many reasons for why an age group athlete would voluntarily spend money to sweat, stress the heart, experience muscle pains and mentally prepare for an event all to cross a finish line.
-Because your friends, family or co-workers talked you into it.
-Because you feel pressure from others to follow the crowd.
-Because it seems like the next logical step to discover new limits with your body and mind.
-Because you are already exercising, you may as well train for a race.
-Because you want the t-shirt and the medal.

Whatever the reason may be, I believe that there is one precise reason why athletes and fitness enthusiasts decide to register for a race.

For the finish line.

(Source: Gloria)

It’s kinda funny to think about racing for a finish line. A banner or inflatable sign signifies the start. 

(Source: IM Texas)

This spot may also be the finish but the race director has to change the words on the sign. 
Then your body goes around in a straight line, out and back, in loops or in some other odd arrangement in order to cover a certain distance as you try to cover that distance as fast as possible. 

The end result – another inflatable sign, banner or other crafted marker to signify the finish. You probably wouldn’t be able to see the finish line 1 week out from race day but with less than 24 hours before the race, you have a clear idea of where you have to take your body to call yourself a finisher. 

Now that I am a few days out from crossing my 7th Ironman finishing line, I struggle with gathering the right words to describe my 3rd Ironman World Championship which resulted in a 6 minute PR from 14 weeks ago (at IM Lake Placid with Karel) and a 25 minute PR from 2011.

As an athlete, I don’t sign up for races because I want to see how quickly I can overcome injuries, how much money I can spend on gear or how I can dedicate a big part of my life for a one day event (which may last 1 hour or up to 11).

The finish line signifies success.

No matter how fast or slow it takes you to get there, the first step across the finish line immediately means that you finished what you started. No matter what obstacles you had to overcome on race day, you did it. And that is why, I feel, it is so important to enjoy the journey of training for a race and having a race day plan that allows you to execute on race day. There's nothing more gratifying than finishing a race strong and knowing that you prepared yourself and raced your race to the best of your ability on that day. 

The soreness is gone in my legs although I know better than to test myself with structured workouts and intensity for the next 2-3 weeks. I am sleep deprived, covered in funny tan lines and still have a few chaffed areas (aka battle wounds). 

But all I can remember is the last ½ mile on Alli drive, running into the finish line chute. All I want to talk and write about is how amazing it felt to cross that finish line knowing that I stuck to my plan and left everything out on the course in Kona, Hawaii.

But, let's be clear. 

I had to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles. My body had to cover 140.6 miles all before crossing that finish line….so here I go to share how it all went down at the 2013 GoPro Ironman World Championship.

Pre race
My taper had been going really well in Kona. Monday involved 15 hours of traveling, 24-hours awake and rolling on foam roller + stretching for the workout of the day. Tuesday I went for a swim + 2 hour bike with my friend Jennifer (w/ a few intervals). Wednesday was a swim and Thursday was the undie run/jog followed by a 45 min spin on the town section of the run course. Friday was my official race-warm-up and I choose not to swim so that I could get my warm-up over and done without any distractions. 

I had my transition bags all laid out on Thurs so that I wouldn't feel too rushed on Friday with checking in my bike/bags, eating, resting and getting a good night of sleep. 

My race warm-up was 1:45 on the bike with 30 min warm-up and then 4 x 2 min “fast” high cadence w/ 5 min EZ. After 2 of them, I did 10 min total EZ spinning and then finished the last 2. I did this on the Queen K and followed that with a 2 mile run w/ Gloria. We did 1 mile comfortable, then walked to stretch out the legs and then did 3 x 20-30 sec “fast” pick-ups w/ 1-2 min jog (all by feel). I felt so good all week and I felt really good about my fitness. I had my normal pre training snack of coffee, water, rye WASA cracker w/ smear of PB + drizzle of honey and banana slices. I’ve trained my gut for 22 weeks for this pre training creation and it works like a charm.

After my warm-up from 7-9am, I cleaned up, put on CEP compression tights and had a delicious breakfast of toast w/ PB and honey, eggs, veggies and fruit for a very filling meal to continue my fueling regime for race day. 

I did some stuff on the computer for a bit and then around 11am I started to officially pack up my transition bags for T1 (swim to bike) and T2 (bike to run) and finalize my race day plan for Gloria (which I typically provide for my parents and Karel who spectate all day).

I had a light lunch of yogurt, fruit and granola because it felt “right” and water and sipped on 1 FIZZ throughout the day for electrolytes (Grape is my fav flavor). At 2:30pm, bib numbers 1000+ could check in bikes so that means me!

Around 2pm Gloria and I headed down to the tow via car and then walked to the pier. 

I had the best sherpa!

Prior to that, I had a nice Facetime with my bike mechanic (hubby) to run over everything with my bike. I let him watch the ocean as I lubed my chain. Breaks weren’t rubbing, no slits in my new tires and all was good for race day. I left my bottles for my bike at home and brought my filled flasks for the bike (1) and run (2) to sit overnight as one less thing to worry about race morning.

At 2:30pm I got in a long line that moved quickly and enjoyed the “counting” that occurs every year to see what bike parts are most popular as well as the most popular bike brands. I really enjoy this part of checking in the bike because unlike other Ironman races, spectators actually come to watch athletes check in their bike and just hang out as the finish line area is being set-up. It’s a big spectacle which is nothing abnormal during IM race week.

The volunteers are absolutely amazing in Kona. I had a local walking my bike through transition area which always feel overwhelming no matter how many times you do it. I pay attention to every little detail in the transition area (ex. port a potties, racks for bags, bike location, in and out, changing tent, etc.) because it can get a bit overwhelming when you have just swam 2.4 miles and there are drenched athletes all around you.
After racking my bike, we walked to the swim to run and bike to run bag locations (blue and red bags). I had a perfect spot on the racks – outside, a few spots from the end. AWESOME! I tied red ribbons on my bags as it is easy to spot that way and one less thing to stress about if I can’t find my bag because it looks like 2000 other bags.

We checked out the Women’s changing tent layout and then ended up under the water hoses to rinse off post swim. Since we walked backward through the transition area, I did one mental walk through from the swim exit, through the transition area. Every athlete has to run the same distance through transition area.
After racking my bike and hanging my bags – the rest of my day involved eating and resting. Gloria had an event to go to so I went back to the condo and although only 3:30pm, I prepared my simple pre race dinner of edamame, sweet potato, quinoa and bread so that it would be ready when I was ready to eat it. I snacked as I relaxed a bit and around 4:45pm I was ready for dinner. It was just enough to leave me satisfied but not stuffed for my next meal was to be consumed around 3:30am the next morning.

Gloria met with an athlete outside the patio to discuss mental training and I just chilled inside and watched TV. It may seem strange but I have no trouble sleeping well the night before an Ironman, so I went to bed around 9pm and had the best night of sleep all week. I guess I was just ready for this party to start and I worked really hard with Gloria all week to clear my mind to ensure positive thoughts for race day. My only stressor is the alarm not going off for it hasn’t happened before but I still worry. I had 5 alarms set and my sport psychologist said that’s ok J She set two as extra backups.

Race day
3:30am I was up and feeling great. I felt calm but felt waves of nervousness. My biggest anxiety was the waiting that I have to do after the pros start and then just treading water for a good 15 minutes. I tried to get away from those thoughts but that made me a bit uneasy to think about that.

After eating around 500 calories of 4 Wasa crackers (60 calories each) + Nut butter + honey + raisins + granola + banana (all energy dense foods, not volume dense which helps with digestion) and having a cup of coffee and water (along with 2 hammer endurance aminos and electrolytes), it was time to say good bye to the condo for I wouldn’t be back until later that evening.

Gloria dropped me off and parked the car about 1.5 miles away. Her Sherpa duties were phenomenal all week and I was just so lucky to be around such positive energy all week.

After walking behind the host hotel, I stood in a line for body marking. For the first time, instead of stamps we all receive stick-on tattoos. Again, the volunteers were amazing. The process to get into transition area takes a bit of time at the World Championship for after body marking, you have to check your chip, then get weighed and then go through 3-4 “security” points to show your wrist band.

Finally, once I was in transition area, I was so happy to see my bike. I didn’t bring a bike pump but in Kona, everyone shares everything. I had been using pumps all week from others in the condo or at the expo and on race morning, there were volunteers everywhere with pumps which was so amazing to just be able to be by your bike and pump up your tires. I rechecked my bike brakes, put on my 4 x bottles, checked my Garmin 500 (reset), made sure my bike was in a good gear for exiting transition and double checked my helmet to make sure no loose ends that would risk DQ. I said hi to a few athletes and stood in line for the potty for about 15 minutes. It was around 6am and my tummy was feeling really good which was a great sign. Seeing that this is the only IM that I have ever repeated, I think knowing the course and what the day could bring was comforting for me.

I made my way to the swim bag drop off which included my sandals, sunscreen and consumed water bottle (with FIZZ in it) and grabbed my Sayonara TYR speed suit, cap and goggles after covering myself in body glide. There is sunscreen, water and everything you need near the race start which makes the vibe really good in case you forgot something.

The crowd was building by the entrance to the swim start inflatable by the edge of the pier so I waited until we were allowed to enter the water. I took in a gel and with just a few minutes until we walked into the water, a volunteer stepped over to me and asked if she could speak to me.

After just zipping up my speed suit and putting on my cap and goggles and feeling ready for this crazy swim start, the volunteer nicely told me that “I think your speed suit is illegal.”
3,2,1..mental breakdown, where is Gloria!

She told me that my speed suit is not allowed in WTC racing because it is not the right material. I did not purposely buy this speedsuit because it was illegal but instead, we bought this one because it was on sale. I knew there were regulations about speedsuits but with my suit being "old" I questioned her as I didn't think about this specific suit because I had seen many people wearing it at other WTC races. I know about wetsuit regulations with thickness but apparently with speedsuits, the Torque is allowed, not the Sayonara.

I feel that my almost very costly mistake can be a lesson to others. Note to ALL athletes, there are some rules that are very well known (ex. no disc wheels in Kona, no fins in the swim, no handing off bottles to athletes on the course/outside support) and are very visable to the eye. However, when it comes to wetsuits and speedsuits, check the regulations of WTC events. Here is a helpful link: Ironman swimwear

I will say, however, that my "illegal" speedsuit has not given me any competitive advantage of helping me swim any faster than my own abilities without it, in non wetsuit swims.I thought about not including this in my race report as I am still a bit frustrated at the situation of me not considering this important fact of race day gear but my focus of my racing is to be able to help others and hopefully you will not have to experience a similar situation or worse, a DQ.

I was not on the verge of tears and I was not freaking out, I was just caught off guard and not what I expected to deal with before the start. I guess I was just upset that I didn't think about my speedsuit not being allowed because I don't race a lot and since I have had it for a few years (and hasn't really helped me in speed suit allowed swims), it just wasn't something that I thought about for race week. 

But, I’ve learned in life that things happen for a reason.

So, even if others were wearing illegal speed suits, I thank this volunteer so much for letting me know. She told me I could wear it but it may risk DQ if an official saw me and I told her “no way” so I took it off quickly and she put it in my swim to bike bag so it wouldn’t get lost.

A bit frustrated as I was walking into the water, tucking my tri top into my cycling shorts, I had to get my mind back to a good place as this wasn’t going to affect my whole day unless I let it. As I was walking into the water, I spotted a sea turtle right in front of me that I almost stepped on. I smiled and then thought to myself “well, one less thing I have to take off in transition area” and I swam comfortably to the middle and to the left of the pier to position myself for the swim. 

Treading water for 15 minutes allowed for a lot of time to be with my thoughts.  
(Source: My article on Master the Kona Mass Start)

There was not a lot of talking among athletes and Mike Riley was keeping us all motivated and excited. The crowds were rows deep and lined up all along the water’s edge for a good mile. It was just as remarkable to see the spectators as it was, I am sure, for them to see us in the water.

With little announcement, BOOM!

At 7am, all 2000+ of us were off!

I started my Garmin 910 on multisport and the ocean boxing match began with a big kick right into my left eye and my goggles pressed so hard into my eye I could barely see.

All of a sudden it all became real….racing for a finish line is not easy but even more difficult, is getting to the start line. Just like in life, training involves many ups and downs. As athletes, we face hardships, struggles and sucky moments. Times when life just doesn't seem fair and we have to live with our mistakes. About to embark on a race of a lifetime, it finally hit me (literally) that wow - what an honor it is to race in the 35th Anniversary of the Ironman World Championship. A race where athletes from around the world would give anything to be in my place, with or without a speedsuit…..

2.4 mile swim…To be continued.


2013 GoPro Ironman World Championship FINISHER

“Athletics brings out a side of you that is wonderful. It brings out so many good attributes like competing, intensity and playing at the highest level.” 
— Julie Foudy, Olympic gold medalist and former Women’s Sports Foundation president


“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”
-Wilma Rudolph, Winner of 3 Gold Medals at 1960 Rome Olympic Games

“The medals don’t mean anything and the glory doesn’t last. It’s all about your happiness. The rewards are going to come, but my happiness is just loving the sport and having fun performing.”

“Being your best is not so much about overcoming the barriers other people place in front of you as it is about overcoming the barriers we place in front of ourselves. It has nothing to do with how many times you win or lose. It has no relation to where you finish in a race or whether you break world records. But it does have everything to do with having the vision to dream, the courage to recover from adversity and the determination never to be shifted from your goals.”

On October 12th, 2013 at 5:37 pm (Hawaii time), I crossed my 7th Ironman finish line. 
I swam 2.4 miles in the ocean in 1:07:16.
In one of the most brutal swims a triathlete can ever experience. Let;s just call it an open water boxing match. But, I stuck to my racing plan (given to me by coach/hubby Karel) and exited the water feeling hungry to bike. A PR swim in Kona.
I biked 112 miles in 5:30:10. 
The winds were relatively calm until the last 30 miles which then we faced very challenging side winds. But, I stuck to my racing plan and ended up riding strong and shocking myself (and Karel) with a 10 min PR in Kona. 
I ran 26.2 miles 3:51:14
There's nothing easy about the Ironman World Championship but this run will make you or break you. But, I stuck to my racing plan, ran from one aid station to another and walked through each aid station from mile 2-24. I really dug deep at the end after leaving the energy lab and finished with a PR run in Kona. 

Experience came in handy on race day. With 2 previous Ironman World Championships in my career highlight record books, I knew what to expect and how to race this race. But most of all, I went into this race with a goal. PR in Kona. With IM Lake Placid being 14 weeks ago, I knew I had better fitness than when I raced for a 10 minute PR in Placid and punched my Kona ticket. 
I trained smart with the help of Karel and only did 1 x 100 mile ride and 3 x 15 mile runs between IM Lake Placid and Kona. For 22 weeks, I trained smart in order to execute on race day. 
Within 14 weeks, my body did something incredible. I dropped 16 minutes in two incredibly challenging courses. 
My performance in Kona not only validates my train smart, recover harder approach to training but also that any athlete or fitness enthusiast out there must dream big if you want to do something incredible. 
10:35 was the goal for race day and I adjusted my plan on the run just to ensure I would PR. The new goal became 10:40 but all throughout the day, I reminded myself that I don't have to be fast on race day, just slow down the least amount possible. 
I raced my own race, I stayed confident and I embraced the pain. I overcame low moments, times of self doubt and bottled up the cheers (thanks GLORIA, mom, dad, aaron and Karel from afar and everyone else out there...I virtually heard you!). I took risks, I was proactive and I stuck to my plan. 

The most amazing accomplishment for my body is knowing that I have finished every Ironman that I have started. I continue to find myself learning so much about my body with every Ironman journey. 

I am sore, I am chaffed and I am sunburn. 

But, every pain that I feel now is a result of the day I had yesterday. 
Words can not describe how grateful I am to everyone who followed my journey, not only on race day but also for the past 22 weeks in order to get to the IM World Championship starting line. 

Wow - 10:37:10

What I love so much about sports, but specifically my passion for endurance triathlons, is that you never know how incredible your body can be until you make it do the impossible. 

Dreams are easy to talk about but making them happen is the tough part. 

Thank you body for making it happen. 

Marni Sumbal
7x Ironman Finisher, 3x Ironman World Championship finisher

Thank you Gloria for your cheers and support yesterday and for capturing this amazing moments.
Thank you everyone for your support on social media and for tracking myself along with all the other inspiring athletes.
Thank you to my mom, dad and Aaron (and extended family) for supporting my dreams and most of all, letting me dream big.
And lastly - Karel (and Campy). I just can't explain how much this race meant to me for I never thought I was capable of the race I had yesterday. I stuck to the plan which was created based on weeks, months and years of hard work. I am so excited to see what the future brings for I never want to stop dreaming big and testing my limits alongside so many amazing, inspiring, motivating athletes of all levels.

Now it's your turn...... how will you dream big with your body?