I was really looking forward to the new run course. With the first two
miles net downhill, it was easy to find my running rhythm. At home, we live on
the bottom of a hill so every run is always starting uphill. Although my
transition was a bit long, that extra time (plus potty stop) contributed to
quickly finding my running legs after a really exhausting and challenging bike.
I had no time or pace goals for the run as it’s nearly impossible to predict how the body will feel and perform in a marathon after 114.4 miles of racing. And there’s just no way to simulate the mind and body fatigue that you feel when you start the run. I’ve had Ironman runs where the fatigue doesn’t hit me until mile 18-20 and others where I feel it on the first step (which makes for a very, very long marathon). Although I have had a lot of experience running a marathon after biking for 112 miles, participating in the 3-day, coast to coast, Xtreme triathlon really gave me a lot of confidence with my running as I went through a lot of highs and lows while covering 50 miles spread of 3 days (18 miles day one, 18 miles day two, 13 miles day three). While I may not be the fastest runner, I consider myself a very resilient, efficient and strong runner. And my experience with long distance triathlon racing as given me a lot of opportunities to troubleshoot situations to keep me running strong until the finish line. Some races have more obstacles to overcome than others but I really do love the decision making and mental toughness that is needed to run a marathon at the end of an Ironman.
I grabbed water at the first aid station, took a few sips and dumped a cup of ice down my sports bra (which works great for holding ice). I did this at every aid station so that I could always hold on to ice to help keep me cool (plus I like to hold something when I run in a race). I saw my athlete Ericka and she gave me a big cheer in town. As I made my way down the in-town hills (thankfully we only had to go up them once this year in route to the finish versus twice in years past), I was feeling so much energy from the crowds. I felt a lift in energy and before I knew it, I was a few more miles down the road in the equestrian park. This was also a new section of the run course and while I thought I’d like the short 0.7 mile loop in and around the horse park, it felt hot and windy. But I did enjoy it when it got more crowded as I like seeing other athletes during the race. However, having Karel at the entrance/exit was great as I looked forward to seeing him each outbound and inbound loop. It was also a great place to see other athletes. It was a little confusing to navigate at first but after the first loop it was clear where to run in and out of the park.
I felt like my energy was good and I started drinking from my flasks at around mile 2 – enough time to let my body settle into a good running rhythm. I had two flasks filled with 1 scoop each of Orange Skratch. While I typically don’t like the flavor Orange, the Orange Skratch seems to sit the best in my belly when I run compared to the other flavors. I brought along two extra small baggies of scratch if I needed to refill my flasks, as well as a packet of TUMS. I didn’t bring any Aminos on the run as I knew I wouldn’t take them. It just gets too hard to complete tasks while running so I try to keep my fueling strategy as simple as possible.
Karel told me that I was still winning my age group by over 20 minutes and the first place overall amateur was way ahead. He told me that 2nd place was within my reach so I kept that in the back of mind. At this time I was still holding on to 3rd place overall amateur. Although there are no awards for overall amateur (or top 3 overall amateur) at the Ironman branded events, I really enjoy racing near the front of the race as the competition brings out the best in me and I explore my limits and capabilities by racing against those who are faster than me.
As I made my way down the hill by the ski jumps and turned left onto River Road, I had already completed 4.24 miles and those miles went by really quickly. I would look at my watch every now and then but the metrics didn’t mean anything to me. Again, I was not chasing anything and I have learned through Ironman racing that you can’t get frustrated or try to control paces in a marathon at the end of the Ironman. There is just too much to focus on in and out of your control and you have to work with your body, not try to force it to do something that it doesn’t want to do.
The next almost hour or 6.6 miles were beautiful, but lonely. I saw the top three leading female pros and a few that I was biking around had passed me in the early miles of the run. I saw the first place overall amateur female and she was in a league of her own so I kept my focus on the 2nd place overall amateur, who was still running really strong. There were a lot of guys around me, some that I passed and others that passed me and gave me cheer. The road was undulating which helped break up the running rhythm. I stopped at every aid station and grabbed a sip of water and ice. After the turn around, I was hit with that Ironman fatigue that I know all too well. I was a bit bummed that it hit me so early (around mile 8) but that’s part of Ironman racing. You just gotta deal with what comes your way.
Although my mind was in a good place and my legs didn’t feel deep fatigue, my body felt hollow inside. It was like my body was moving on its own but I didn’t have much of a say of how hard or easy I could go – it was just running. I’m familiar with this feeling – it’s kinda like bonking but without the loopy feeling in the head. Again, just a normal feeling in an Ironman. I knew I needed a bit more calories at this time to get out of this empty feeling so after I had a sip of water from a cup at the aid station, I grabbed a cup of coke at the next aid station and took two small sips. I continued to grab ice and pour it down my sports bra so I could keep holding it to keep cool. Although it wasn’t hot out, it was warm. I was happy that I had my cooling towel and very comfortable running with my sports bra on (as that is how I always run at home in the summer).
I gave myself a mile to see how the coke sat in my belly before taking in anything else. It felt good so at the next aid station, I did the same thing again – water, two small sips of coke, ice down the sports bra. The volunteers were not handing us cups but instead, we had to grab them off the table so my walk breaks were incorporated at each aid station to get what I needed and then to keep on running. After two miles of the coke sitting just fine in my belly, I waited about ½ mile and then took a sip of my Skratch from my hydration belt to see if I could mix the two. Although I would never recommend this strategy to athletes because of the concentration in the gut, I was being very strategic and careful, listening to my body and also always diluting the coke with water (and whenever possible, taking a sip of water before consuming the Skratch). Once I realized that my gut was A-ok, I continued with water/coke/ice at the aid stations and then the Skratch as needed between the aid stations. This seemed to work well because by the time I got off River Road and back on to the main road by the Ski Jumps, I felt a bit more controlled with my effort. I was actually really looking forward to that climb as I had just gotten off a flatter section of road and I needed to change up my running rhythm. The climb felt really good and it almost gave me a bit of a pick-me-up.
Twelve miles had passed after I left the equestrian park and Karel gave me another update that I was still staying in 3rd but the 2nd place amateur female was not looking too good. For the first loop, my focus was just on the first loop. Just do what you need to do to feel good on the first loop. I knew once I made it back to the equestrian park (which was actually mile 14, kinda like a bonus that special needs was at mile 14, a little more than half way), I could start breaking the course down into segments and checking off each segment one last time. I continued to use my go-to Ironman mantras “you trained to hurt” or “never give up on an uphill” and really absorbed the energy from the crowds. As I made my way to the turn around (which was on a slight incline), I felt a rush of energy with so many people out cheering.
When I got to the equestrian park for the 3rd time (outbound for the 2nd time), I stopped at special needs to grab my two filled flasks (each with 1 scoop Skratch Orange). Although the equestrian park was not my favorite part of the course, it was fun to see other athletes and to have so many spectators on the road where we entered/exited the park.
Karel gave me another update that I was getting closer to 2nd but the girl behind me was running very strong. He told me just to stay strong and to not give up. I had been battling a side stitch on my right side for a few miles (it would come and go) but I could feel my right side getting tight and my right leg starting to shuffle a bit. I contributed the side stitch to my right side getting tight so I took a moment to just stop, lift my hands over my head and stretch it out. Karel was right there next to me and he told me “good stretch it out, you are looking great and so strong.”
Thankfully, I was in a good place mentally and I was actually really enjoying the suffering that I was feeling as I checked off each mile. I also really enjoyed watching the pro women race as they were really fighting strong until the end.
When I got to River Road one last time, my focus was to get to mile 20 (which was just after the turn around). I saw my athlete Ericka there cheering and she brightened my day as she told me I was doing awesome. I am pretty sure I had a smile on my face all day, even when things got really tough on the run. With only 6 miles left, I felt like I was still holding good form but I was taking a little more time at each aid station. Because I am used to taking walk breaks when I run, I actually don’t have much trouble getting going again when I stop. My body is trained for that so once I start running again, I am good until the next aid station. There were a lot of mind tricks happening as I just focused on one mile at a time. I loved seeing my athletes out on the course and even though I didn’t have a lot of energy to share with them, I would give each of them a big smile or a little wave. I even gave one of my athletes (Stephanie) a nice pat on the butt as I passed her.
I never doubted myself and I knew I would get to that finish line but the River Road 3 miles out and back segment felt really really long. But I kept telling myself “imagine you are on a training run and how awesome it is to run here.” My body was very tired, each running stride got a bit harder but I knew it would be worth it. Once I finally finished the River Road section, I had only a little more than 3 miles to go. I needed to be strategic and smart as that is still a long way to go in Ironman racing. The body/gut could still shut down at any point. I opted to run the last hill as I felt like I needed to use my strengths whenever possible.
I saw Karel one last time as I made my way in and out of the equestrian park and he told me that I was in 2nd still but the 3rd place girl was really close to me. I made one last stop before leaving the equestrian park and for the last 1.8 miles, I gave it all I could. Another motto I like to use is “you didn’t come this far to only come this far.”
I heard a lot of cheers from people I knew, as well as cheers from the spectators. That really lifted me up. With less than a mile to go, I was passed which moved me into 3rd place overall amateur. At this point, I didn’t give up but I knew that I wasn’t going to catch her as I was giving all I could. I shuffled up the last two hills and when I made my way into the finisher chute, I was just so happy.
As for Kona, I was not planning to accept my slot to the Ironman World Championship going into this race. I stuck with my decision, and I let my slot roll down to another deserving female. I want others to be able to experience the magic on that island and everything that comes with participating in an Ironman World Championship event.
Thank you for all the cheers, support and encouragement. It really means so much to me. I often ask myself why I continue to train and race in endurance sports. Although I love long distance racing, I do it for the comradery, the cheers, the laughs, the stories and the memories that I get to share with my athletes. And a big thank you to Karel for spending all day on his feet (fueled by pastries of course) cheering for me and the rest of the Trimarni crew.
10:40.40 finishing time
Run: 3:50.50 (2nd AG run, 26th female, 137th overall)
1st place AG (35-39) - won by 22 minutes.
3rd place overall female amateur