IM Kona '15 RR - Pre-race + 1.2 mile swim

It was a very restless night of sleep for me. Oddly enough, I tend to sleep very well on the night before my races but this pre-race sleep (or lack thereof) was unusual. Karel, on the other hand, slept amazingly well.
As I watched the clock, which seemed like every hour, go from 1am, 2am, 3am...it was finally time to wake-up at 3:45am. 

Karel started the coffee and we both ate our pre-race meals and started to get hydrated. The overall mood in our condo was positive as we were both ready to get this 140.6 mile party started. 

After getting dressed in our race gear, filling my powder-filled bike and run bottles with cold water (Karel froze his special needs bike and all of his run bottles - which didn't help as they both were warm when he got to them) and double checking that we had everything, we walked out of our condo (Kona Plaza) and to the race venue, just a few minutes away. 

It is very motivating to see the finish line (aka final destination) at an Ironman as you are walking to the race start.

I didn't overlook the spectacle that we were about to be part of as spectators were already claiming spots by sitting on the wall to watch the swim start at 5:15am.
The crowds of volunteers, athletes and spectators were building and I could feel a lot of positive energy. 

Even though I checked the weather before the race (primarily wind direction as the temperature rarely changes on paper), it's always a question as to what the course conditions will bring to each athlete. 

The pre-race to-do's moved very quickly and the volunteers were great. First we handed off our bike and run special needs bags to the volunteers in each truck and then walked to our right to the body marking tent.
It was so wonderful to see Linsey Corbin welcoming us into the body marking tent.

Karel and I grabbed our numbers and then we went to the same volunteer to apply our bib number tattoos. 

Afterward, we walked toward the scales to get weighed and then it was a few more security checks with only our clear pre-swim bags allowed (absolutely no backpacks or other bags were allowed in transition area). 

Everything was very well marked and again, the volunteers were amazing. 

I felt waves of excitement and nerves and I was also tired from not sleeping but I stayed positive and reminded myself that as soon as I got into the water, like usual, I would feel "ready" to race.  

Karel walked with me to my bike to pump-up my tubular tires and double-check my bike and then we said our good luck wishes before we parted ways.

The transition area was packed. It was tight to move around but the volunteers were doing their best to keep everything running smoothly. 

After putting my 3 bottles on my bike, putting on my Garmin 810 on my bike and making sure my helmet would not get knocked off by another athlete after the swim, I walked over to the run bags to put my flasks into my Nathan hydration belt.
Once again, with tight security, a volunteer had to escort me to me bag and watch me put my flasks into my bag. I was not allowed to remove anything from my bag. 

After all my to-do's were complete in transition, I waited in line for the bathroom on the far end of the pier (by my bike) and since I had a lot of time until my wave started at 7;10am, I didn't feel rushed (which was a nice feeling). 

I kept reminding myself how lucky I am to be here and whenever an athlete would ask me if this was my first time, it was very humbling to say "this is my 4th Kona." I know how hard it is to qualify for Kona and I feel so lucky that I have been able to qualify for Kona at 4 Ironman races. 

After the potty break, I walked out of the transition area (away from the swim start) to drop off my pre-swim bag which contained my phone (turned off), sandals, an extra pair of goggles, body glide, sunscreen and my clothing from before the race. Since we were staying just a block from the race start, I didn't put any post-race clothes into my bag.

I kept my goggles, cap and speedsuit and also had a throw away plastic 20-ounce bottle of 120- calories of sport drink to sip on (and a few Clif blocks).

I laid on the grass while hearing the cannon go off for the male professionals at 6:30am. Then it was time for the female professionals at 6:35am and I waited until 6:45am before walking back through the transition area, toward the water. 

As the male age groupers were entering the water before their 7am start, I thought about Karel and what is emotions must be like as this was his first Kona and his first ocean mass start. Treading water for over 10 minutes, getting pushed, kicked and shoved - and that wasn't even the actual swim start!

The following pictures are from Triathlete.com 

Karel was the most nervous about the swim (regarding the entire Ironman in Kona). He told me that once he got the swim over with - he would be able to relax. 

The stairs were in place (only on race day) for the athletes to walk into the water before swimming out to the start line (I'm guessing about 50 yards away).

Karel and I were reminded by Coach Matt Dixon to not overlook our surroundings and to take a moment to soak everything in. The helicopter in the sky, the tens of thousands spectators, the scuba divers with video cameras under the water, the other athletes around us and the 5,000 volunteers.
The beautiful Kona fishes did not show up for race day.

It was a very special moment - never to be forgotten. 

After the guys were off, it was time for the 20% of IM Kona participants who were female to make our way to the swim start.
The female age-groupers had a 7:10am start and I watched the clock to start swimming out at 7am. With a "smaller" wave with just women age groupers (which was great!), I didn't need to be treading water that long to get a spot near the middle/front.
It only took a minute or two to get to the start but it was nice to move the body. I instantly felt better. 

The clock by Mike Riley read 7:03am.....we waited and waited. We had to move over to the left a bit because the male professionals were on their way back which occupied some time.
Finally it was 7:08am and Mike Riley yelled "Ladies are you ready?"
It was a great feeling to hear so many strong, healthy and awesome female athletes cheer "YES".

At 7:09am, the water started to feel a bit more choppy and 5 seconds, 4 seconds, 3 seconds, 2 seconds, 1 seconds.....
BOOM - we were off!!
Honestly -it just felt SO good to move.

It was hard to find a rhythm as everyone was trying to battle for clean water and to break into groups of similar abilities. Often, this doesn't happen until 1/2 way of an Ironman swim but it does seem to calm down after about 15-20 minutes.
There were lots of buoys on this out and back 2.4 mile course which made sighting in the ocean much easier but the water felt a bit choppy. I found this to be odd because typically for IM Kona, there is more of a push going out and more chop and resistance going back.
I didn't try to think ahead with my thoughts so I just focused on one buoy to the next.

My stroke felt good and with my biggest worry that my back was going to bother me (as it had been for the past 1.5 months), my back wasn't a factor.
I felt strong with both arms in the water!

The turn around boat came quickly and since I didn't turn on my Garmin 910 for the swim (on purpose), I didn't know my time but it felt like I swam to the boat rather quickly. 

After making a right turn around the boat, to the turn buoy, it was time to head straight back to the pier/swim exit. 

The water didn't not calm down and if anything, it felt choppier. It wasn't horrible but little did I know that "hard going out and hard going back" would be a common theme for me during this race.

I caught up with many blue caps and managed to stay with a few pink caps. It was impossible to know where I was positioned in the mix of female age group athletes but based on the number of blue male age group caps that I was passing, I felt as if this was turning out to be a very fast swim for me. 

Unlike years in the past, I never got tired during this IM Kona 2.4 mile swim. Typically, this ocean swim (without a wetsuit) tires me out in the last 400-600 meters or so but I felt strong all the way to the end.
As I was nearing the pier, I didn't try to pick it up as I wanted to exit feeling fresh and ready to bike.

After 1+ hour of swimming in the ocean, I stood up on the stand and jogged my way to the stairs. Excited to see my time, I felt really confident that this swim was a huge improvement from years past. I looked up on the clock and saw 1:08.06. 

After feeling so good, never feeling tired and passing so many blue caps - I had my first taste of defeat BUT I was not going to let it get to me. Still, with 9+ hours of racing ahead and many more miles to cover with my body, I quickly moved on mentally as there was nothing I could do about it
(Thank goodness I didn't have my watch on as I could only imagine all of the thoughts in my head if I saw my time as I was swimming and focused on that instead of how strong I felt in the water). 

I ran through the hoses to quickly wash off, grabbed my T1 (bike bag) which was in an awesome spot (2nd from the end) and ran into the women's changing tent.

With a tip from Karel, I ran through the changing to the very end so I didn't have to squeeze my way through people after I got my bike gear on. The tent was a  bit crowded but I found a chair and dumped out my bag with the help of an awesome volunteer.
Because I had my chip on my right ankle with a safety pin, I asked her to remove my chip and hold on to it until I put on my compression socks. I put on my right sock and asked her to  put on my chip (with safety pin). She was awesome and so helpful. I then put on my other CEP compression sock, then my cycling shoes and grabbed my new Oakley sunglasses and sport nutrition for my pockets (Clif Blocks and a wafer) and headed out of the tent. I didn't change clothes so I was all set and ran out of transition (my volunteer put  my swim stuff into my bike bag for me).

The carpet in the transition was a little slippery so it was tough to "run" with my cycling shoes on so I was careful to not hurt myself.
Although it really would not have mattered considering how hot it was, I didn't want to carry my shoes because of my socks getting wet on the carpet - looking back, I should have just carried my shoes to my bike which I have done at several other Ironman races (I prefer to mount my bike with my cycling shoes already on my feet). 

I ran to my bike, put on my helmet, readjusted my sunglasses, turned on my bike computer, quickly pinched my front and back wheels to make sure they had good tire pressure from the morning (no leaks) and rolled my way through athletes to make my way out of the transition area.

Another tip from Karel - instead of immediately mounting my bike after the mount line, I ran my bike to the far right (as that is where I was closest to) by the barricade and about 2 bike lengths away from everyone else and then mounted my bike - it provided a much smoother bike mount than trying to do it with so many athletes around right on the mount line.

I clipped in, pressed start on my bike computer and off I went to discover what Madame Pele had planned for us for our 112 mile ride. 

As for Karel.........
It was a wrestling match for him. He said from the start, it was really rough water until the turn around. He was mentally prepared for it but nothing really can prepare you for the madness of a mass start - especially with so many talented and fit athletes in one arena.

Karel would try to find clean water but he said it never lasted long. Sometimes he would  drift off course with a group but then back toward the buoys. When he got to the turn around, he looked at his watch and it said 32 minutes which he was so happy about.
But on the way back, even though the water was a bit more clean for smooth swimming, it was not a fast swim back.
Karel stayed calm but there were a few times when he would accidentally tap a foot in front of him (as there is no way around it) and the athlete would kick obsessively as if he was sending a message "don't touch me!". This was the only thing that bothered Karel and as it kept happening, Karel wanted more and more to be out of the water.

Karel said that people were exiting the water in groups of 8-10 every few seconds so it was another wrestling match just to get out of the water.
Karel looked at his watch (which read 2.69 miles) and read 1:13:47.
Karel was disappointed but he quickly remembered that there was nothing he could do about it and it time to focus on the bike. 

Stay tuned for the 112 mile bike race recap....