10/22/15

IM Kona '15 RR - 26.2 mile run


After transitioning from bike to run, I jogged out of the transition area, started my Garmin 910 (which I powered on in the last mile of the bike - already set on the run function) and was feeling a lot of energy from the crowds.

My plan was to use the first 5 miles or so to find a good rhythm as I had no pace goals for this run. My Garmin was simply there to record data but it was not controlling how I raced my race.

While shuffling my way up Palani, before turning right onto Kuakini Hwy, I tried to not confuse feelings with actions. Even though I didn't feel great coming out of the transition tent and my Ironman swim and bike performance had me feeling as if I was not having a good day, I did everything in my power to not let it get to me. I told myself that I could still put together a great run and amazing things could still happen.

I suppose I had two options at this point - to settle for the day that was far from my best or to convince myself that today was a great race - I went for the later as a little positive self talk during tough moments can  make a world of a difference.

Suddenly, I felt a little better - not great but not bad. My legs still felt super heavy as if the pavement was sucking all of the energy from me but after turning right onto Hualalai and then left onto Ali'i and seeing all of the people, I really had no choice but to keep running as the crowds were giving me a lot of energy.

In my three previous Kona races, I have never really enjoyed the out and back, almost 10 mile section on Ali'i drive. It's really hard for me to get into a rhythm and with all of the people, it's almost like mental overstimulation. But perhaps this is because on the Queen K it is the extreme opposite - it's too quiet with not a spectator around for over 15 miles.

For the first few miles, I focused on drinking my Clif Hydration from my flasks between the aid stations and water at the aid stations. I had extra packets of Clif hydration to refill my flasks as well as some blocks and salt (and TUMS as needed - never needed to use them in Kona this year). 

As usual, I walked through the aid stations and for the first few miles, my walks were short as I was feeling semi-ok. But nearing the turn around, 5 miles down the road, I started to feel a bit tired. Although we were running by the ocean, the lack of cloud cover and almost no breeze made the air super thick. At first I was actually excited for these extreme conditions as I tend to perform well in the heat but on this day, I just felt off from the start and I still wasn't able to bounce back for this run.

I saw a lot of athletes that I knew who were doing amazingly well in front of me, met a few new ones (thanks Jacqui for the 1-mile chat!) and saw a lot of familiar faces behind me. I kept reminding myself of this awesome opportunity to be racing (suffering) in Kona for the Ironman World Championship.

Prior to the turn around, I saw Karel. I don't know what got into me but I moved to the left, gave a big cheer for Karel and stuck out my hand for a high-five. Karel smiled and high-fived me back.
In all of our races that we have done together in the past 3 years, never have I tried to disrupt Karel's race as I know he is always mentally in the zone and doesn't like distractions. But something inside of me felt like I needed to do this and I am so happy that Karel had the energy to high-five me back. 
It totally made my day 10x better. 

As I was running back toward town to finish up the Ali'i drive segment of the marathon, I hit a really low spot around mile 7 or so (I'm guessing). It was hot and my body was tired. Oddly enough, my mind was still fighting hard. I didn't feel bonky or weak, just tired. My legs were trying super hard to get me to walk often but I only walked the aid stations. I was surprised at the pace I was holding which was around 8-8:20 min/miles when I looked at my watch, but this was only thanks to the walk breaks at the aid stations. And as the race went on, the walks got longer and longer to take advantage of the coke, ice, water, more ice and more water. 
It was getting hot!

After running my way toward Palani, I shuffled my way up to the aid station which was waaaaay up the middle of Palani. 
It's amazing how that hill grows on race day.

The crowds were amazing and there was even an announcer with a mic who was cheering for us so I stayed mentally focused until the aid station. At the aid station on Palani, I gave myself permission to walk all the way to the top of Palani in order to reset my brain and mind for the next half of the race (sadly - when we get to the top of Palani, we are "only" at around 10 miles -  not even half way.)

At this point, I had decided to switch to coke, water and ice along with Base Salts but I didn't ditch my Clif packets, blocks or flasks. I was in survival mode and I was just focused on getting my body from one aid station to the next.

The Queen K is nothing more than long rollers. Sounds easy, right?
Well, it's really very long rollers with no shade, squeezed between two lava fields. To say it was/is hot is an understatement. The heat that was felt on race day was indescribable and just by seeing some of the professionals who were walking, jogging or not having good days, this was a sign that being fast on race day was not the magic formula - just be the best at surviving.

It was really cool to see the professionals and age groupers who were having great days as this was a great dose of motivation. I remember hearing Luke McKenzie cheer for Beth G, Matt Dixon cheer for Sarah P and seeing Rachel Joyce and Heather Jackson having amazing performances. 

As I was running on the Queen K, I could feel my legs starting to feel a little better. Somewhere between mile 11-13 (can't remember)  I needed to go to the bathroom - although it felt really good to just sit and of course it felt like an eternity in there. But, I was in and out rather quick. I did have to take off my race belt and hydration belt and pull down my tri suit but I much prefer racing in a tri suit than having an elastic band around my waist when I run. 

The miles were ticking away...but very slowly. I stayed as mentally strong as I could, still only walking the aid stations.

It wasn't too long on the Queen K that I spotted Karel. My first thought was "he is so lucky that he is only a few miles from the finish". I was, maybe, half way through the run (we typically are between 45-60 minutes apart in Ironman races).
My second thought was "wow, he is running with really good form considering his previous foot injury (partial plantar fascia tear back in May) and I can't believe he is still running so well in the heat" (Karel does not like racing in the heat).

And my third thought was - go give him a high-five!

There I went again and ran over to the left side of the cones and reached out my hand for another high-five. Karel responded back and smiled.
One of my favorite memories of the race as he was just a few miles from finishing his first Ironman World Championship. 

Well, the great feeling didn't last long as a few more miles down the road, it started to really get hard to move my legs forward. My mind was still "racing" but my body wanted to stop - very badly. But I found strength to keep moving. 

The 6 miles to the energy lab on the Queen K are long......but I had mentally convinced myself that if I can get to the energy lab, I only have 4 miles in the energy lab and then I am on the way back to the finish.
I can do this!!

I saw a lot of people walking and it looked like everyone was suffering. Sure, there were athletes who were having a great day but I could tell that everyone was extremely focused. Although the Ironman does require a lot of mental strength, it seemed as if this year in Kona, every athlete was trying to handle the mind games that were happening during the race due to the heat. The body wants to keep going, the mind says no. The mind says keep going, the body says no.
It's so exhausting to have to race like this rather than just getting the body into a rhythm but in order to get to any finish line, the mind has to be stronger than the body....
BUT, then again, the body has to be able to respond. 

I welcomed the slight decline in the road for the first mile in the energy lab and at that point in the race, I really couldn't tell if it was any hotter in the lab than on the Queen K. I do recall feeling a little breeze but it was far from the breeze that would cool me off.

When I approached the run special needs at mile 18, I decided to not pick up my extra flasks with Clif Hydration. Perhaps I should have (now looking back) but then again, I was really struggling making good decisions as I was so focused on getting to the finish line.

Although I didn't think about while I was running, I look back and all I can think is all of the poor decisions that I made on race day on the run. Maybe the outcome would not have been any different but it was almost as if my body and my head were in two different places and did a very poor job of communicating with one another during the race. 

As I moved my body, one foot in front of the other as quick as possible up the 1 mile steady climb back to the Queen K, I was approaching mile 20 and I gave myself permission to have one more long walk before the last 10K home. While I was running close to the energy lab and inside the energy lab, I counted all of the age group females ahead of me.

As I was exiting the lab, I guessed that I was somewhere between 50-60th. I was actually quite surprised and this gave me an extra push to keep going to the finish. I was in a world of hurt at this point, not knowing if my next step would be my last step but I just kept fighting. 

For the next two miles, I could feel an ache in the left side of my neck. It felt like someone was pinching me and every time I ran, it felt a bit tighter and more painful. I didn't think too much of it as it was just annoying more than anything so for the next two aid stations, I tried to stretch out my back/neck as much as possible (my back issues from August were on my right side).

When I got to mile 22 or so, I noticed that Professional Meredith Kessler was walking - as she did for most of the marathon. We both shared a sigh that this was a hard day but I told her how amazing she was for not quitting. After a brief chat with her, I had an even bigger fight to get to the finish. She is so inspiring. 

It was only a few minutes later that with every step, I was having trouble breathing. The neck pain that I was feeling had moved to my chest and it was becoming extremely painful. I was willing to push through it but my body thought otherwise.

With every running step forward, I was unable to breath. The longer I tried to run, I found myself gasping for air.
I stopped immediately and put my hands on top of my head as I was trying to catch my breath.
At this point, I was frustrated. I saw athletes passing me and I wanted so bad to be with them. Not to beat them or to compete with them but I had worked so hard mentally to get to and out of the energy lab and now my body was not letting me fight any longer. 

I tried to run again and to adjust my arm position while running, tilt my head, hunch over - do anything possible to run but I couldn't run without losing my breath. I could handle the pain - hey, it's an Ironman, it's going to be tough -  but physically there was nothing I could do for the next 4 miles as every time I tried to run, I was gasping for air. 

I've never walked more than an aid station (or a short walk as needed) in a marathon of an Ironman and here I was, walking mile 22, mile 23, mile 24, mile 25.
Surprisingly, the miles went by rather quickly as I just kept focused on the next aid station.

I must add - the volunteers were amazing all day but especially on the run. They would say my name (from my bib number), "Marni - you are doing amazing." I couldn't help but smile but inside, I was sad. 

I spotted my athlete Colleen near the Base tent who was full of cheers all day. I was actually so happy to see her as it lonely walking by myself on the Queen K (no spectators are allowed past the first/last 1/2 mile or so on the Queen K).

I tried to tell her what I was going on but it was hard to talk. I asked her to text Karel that I was having a hard time and that I was at mile 22 but that I would finish.

As I was nearing mile 24 and almost at the top of the Queen K, I saw Purple Patch bike expert Paul on his bike and he was giving me a pep talk. Sadly, I still couldn't run.
More than any other race, the IM Kona finish line is extra special and for the last 4+ miles, all I could think about was not being able to run to the finish.
I tried to run again down Palani and just couldn't. It was dark at this point and my only thought was to just get to the finish - I'm never doing another IM again (more on that later). 

I tried to run again on Kuakini, less than a mile from the finish and couldn't.

I tried again on Hualani, less than 1/2 mile and with the help of some very deep exhales, I was able to run. I figured I only had one chance to start, for if I stopped I would be gasping for air. So, I just kept with my heavy exhale breathing tactic and shuffling my feet until I reach the finish line chute.

I tried to embrace the finish but all I wanted to do was to cross the finish line, stop moving and see Karel. 

When I crossed the finish line, I felt so relieved that my 11 hour and 30 minute, 4.30 marathon run/walk, 140.6 mile adventure with my body was over. 

The volunteers put their arms around me and asked if I needed help walking to the finisher area and I said YES!. At that point, several of my friends (who were volunteering) came over and assisted me to the finishing area. 

I kept asking, "Where's Karel?" but no one could tell me where he was at. All I wanted was to see Karel.

I finally felt a bit better (and could breath a bit easier) and I was moving extremely slow but I made my way to pick-up my pre-swim gear bag (with my phone), texted Karel that I was walking over to the food area. I picked up my medal and finisher swag from the volunteers at a tent. I then went over to the food area to sit on the grass and I just laid down, for what felt like forever  - hoping that Karel would find me but little did I know that he was worried, looking for me because he heard from someone that I had DNF'd. 

Stay tuned for my post-race report......

As for Karel's run:

Karel said he felt off from the start but luckily, his foot wasn't bothering him too bad. Karel had to miss/modify a lot of runs due to his foot which was very slow healing so it was a big unknown what would happen on race day.

Because Karel never raced in Kona before, he knew it would be hot (and windy) so he didn't have anything to compare to if 2015 IM Kona was any more hot than other years.
Karel focused on finding his stride, light on his feet with good form for the first few miles. He was unable to find light feet so after a few miles, his only mission was 26 x 1-mile aid stations. Karel's only goal was to get to the next aid station - he said that his race had nothing to do with running a marathon. He kept telling himself "just make it to the next aid station and your race is over." When he got to the next aid station, he then told himself to get to the next one. 

He mostly drank coke and water and his sport nutrition in his fuel belt and he wasn't limited by any GI issues all day.

He took full advantage of everything at the aid stations and stuffed himself with sponges and ice to try to stay cool.

Karel was really happy that he could run without pain and we think that he was dealing with some scar tissue that finally broke up during the marathon. Karel did feel limited by lack of proper run training due to the injury but he was very happy with what he was able to put together on race day with all of the extra variables affecting him like racing in the heat, racing in Kona and overcoming a food injury earlier in the summer.

As Karel was running, he laughed at himself "I can't believe I am signed up for two Ironman's next year - that was so stupid of me! I never want to do another Ironman and I definitely don't want to do Kona EVER again!" (more on that later :)


Thank you Colleen for the pic!


Karel crossed the finish line with a 3:25 run and he was greeted by our friends Lisa and Curt and Susan who all congratulated him.


Thank you Erin K for the pic of Karel finishing the race!


Karel was laying on the grass after the race and a nice volunteer came up to him and handed him his medal and finisher bag. 

It was only a short time before the day caught up to Karel and after eating a pretzel, his head went a bit fuzzy and light and he needed to sit down.