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Race Report: IM World Championships (Kona, HI) 2016

Wow, where to start?

  • I could go back to the first time I watched IM World Championships on NBC.  I think I was 15 or 16, I hated running - I would never do that.

  • I could go back to when I first started triathlon in 2012, when I thought crossing the finish lines of sprint and olympic distance races was "enough" and thought I would never be able to do an Ironman.

  • I could go back to October of 2015, when I watched every second of the IM World Championship being streamed on my computer.  Having completed IM Lake Placid that summer, I knew I would never be fast enough to qualify, but I still dreamed - maybe someday, when I am 70!

  • I could go back to May, when Women For Tri asked for applicants to represent them at Ironman World Championships.  The recipient of the spot would have to raise $25,000 for grants and scholarships that are used to promote female participation in the sport.  I thought I had an inspiring story, and I 100% support the effort to help other women find triathlon, so I applied.  I never dreamt in a million years they would choose me!

  • I could go back to June 15th when I got the email.  The first five words... "You are going to Kona!" I must have read them 1000 times.  I think this is where I will start, since this is where my true Kona journey began.  Even though each of these other points in my life lead to the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and worthiness (is that a word), it is this moment that I had to put my confidence to the test.  

When I got that email I began calling people.  My husband, my best friend, my mom.  No one answered!!  Ugh!!  It was 3:30 in the afternoon, they were all working - but I needed to tell someone that I was going to Kona... and that I would have to start fundraising ASAP!  Women for Tri wanted me to wait until the other applicants had been informed that they did not get picked this year before I could share it on social media.  I was finally able to reach my loved ones and tell them the news - we all agreed on one thing, time to get to work on the fundraising.  I was finally able to post about the selection on June 22nd, which gave me exactly 100 days to raise $25,000.

While fundraising was not technically part of the race, it is an important part of my journey.  My journey to the Kona finish line is all about being worthy.  Worthy of your dreams - $25,000 would need to be raised for me to get to the finish line of my dreams - but more importantly, the $25,000 would be used to help so many other women find the finish line of their dreams.  I will not go back so far to tell you about how triathlon has truly changed my outlook on life, and my place in it (you can read past posts for that :-)), but I will tell you that I want for all women to find the thing that makes them feel proud of themselves.  The $25,000 (ultimately $27,000+) that I raised will be used for just that.  Several Scholarships and Grants will be funded with that money, money that many of you donated!!  Thank you!

There are so many amazing things I could tell you about the people I met, the friends and family that stepped up to help, and the experiences I had this summer as I trained and fundraised.  I was able to do two podcasts about the journey.  I was able to share some amazingly inspiring stories of perseverance and hope.  I was able to share all of this with so many people!  I will not retell those stories here though, just visit the past posts on the blog :-)  

**Note - I have "cleaned up" my blog to remove all of the fundraising solicitations to help you navigate through the "good stuff."

With the money raised and the training done (I was self coached this time, with the help and encouragement of my sponsors (Tri To Finish), my tri club (Infinite Multisport), my strength coach (Laurie at Total Health Systems), Hanson's Tuesday night speedsters, and my friends and family), race week was upon me. There was so much to do!

***Race Week***

Monday: I worked and packed.  I don't remember this day, I was a ball of stress!  My dad came down, as he would be house, dog, and teenager sitting for me while we were away.
Tuesday: I worked and got on the plane to Chicago and then LA.
Wednesday:  This day was EXTRA LONG due to time changes, but we were in the airport the majority of this extended day.  Then we finally made it!

We had been delayed several (like 5) hours longer than we were already supposed to be in LA, so we missed the Foundation Luncheon.  I really wanted to participate in everything I could, so we changed in a parking lot (out of our travel clothes that we had worn for 36ish hours) and went to the VIP dinner.  As part of the fundraising spot, Ironman Foundation gifted us VIP for ourselves and our loved ones.  This was an event that was special for the VIPs.  While we did not stay long (we were so tired), I was thrilled to finally meet Moira Horan (W4T Board Member) in person!  I also got to meet the Irish Voice of Ironman Joanne Murphy!  The sunset was beautiful, the adventure had officially begun :-)

Thursday:  This day started with the underpants run!  Too fun!

We also checked out the village, drove the bike course, and attended that athlete's dinner that day.  At the athlete's dinner they talked a lot of about Kupa'a, the theme of the 2016 IMWC.  Kupa'a means constant, firm, immoveable, steadfast...  While the athlete's need to be these things, the discussion that night is how the island is these things as well.  That is what makes Kona the perfect venue for the World Championships, Kupa'a.  I would put that in the back of my brain and use it in some tough moments on the bike course.

What a cool day.  We started the day with a photo shoot with Nils Nilsen in the Energy Lab.  Nils is one on the preeminent photographers in the sport….shooting countless covers for Lava Mag, Triathlete Mag, USAT Mag, shooting at the Olympics and countless other accolades.  You can view some of his other work on his website.  Nils Nilsen

After the photo shoot, I checked in my bike, found an IHOP for my standard pre-race pancake dinner and then went to bed.  Surprisingly, I slept very well!

********************** RACE DAY *********************

Even writing about it now, I cannot believe how quickly this summer went and how I could have possibly been on the pier that morning.  I have not addressed it to this point in the race report, so I guess now is as good a time as any.  

I am a Triathlete.  I did not start running until 2011, I was 35.  I did not start triathlon until 2012, I was 36.  I am not fast.  I am not related to anyone in the sport.  I am just me.  On July 26th, 2015 (age 39) I learned so much about me at IM Lake Placid, and I learned that "just me" is pretty amazing.  On October 8th, 2016 (age 40) - I would put that self love to the test.  There is nothing more humbling, yet more affirming than triathlon.  In our sport, we toe the line with the professionals.  There is no "separate" race, we are all out there together - fighting the elements and reaching for our potential.  Whether Pro or Age-Grouper, we are all trying to outdo our previous best, dig a little deeper, find a little more.  This day, I found a wall (or 10) and found my way around and over.  I found my way to that famous finish line.  My self love and the love for (and from) my friends and family got me through that extremely humbling, yet affirming day.  Everyone should know that feeling.  This is what the day looked like for me:

As was the case all week, I had no issue finding Moira.  I was not nervous at all, but it was still a welcome surprise to find that familiar smile in the darkness of the morning.  I was also grateful to find fellow W4T athlete, Jessica Baxter - as we were able to go through the pre-race lines together.

First up was body marking, where we saw THE Mirinda Carfrae, I made sure to have the same gentlemen put on my tri tats - for luck ;-)  Then we got weighed, had sunscreen applied, and went to drop off the remainder of our supplies to our bike and run bags.  I gave my first #fellowflower to the volunteer that brought me to my run bag to let me add my nutrition to it.  That felt good to see her smile!  All of this in about 20 minutes, since we had VIP access.  While we waited the VERY long wait to race start, I was able to hang with Mark on the beach, and do my first FB Live ever :-)  Mark took over my facebook account for the rest of the day - he did an AWESOME job of updating everyone throughout the day!

If you follow me at all, you know that race day sunsets are important to me.  I am sure that this one will never be beaten!

Swim: 2.4 miles/1:26:02   There is not a lot to report for this portion of the race.  I hung back at the start to keep out of the washing machine.  I swam steady and really enjoyed the view.  I had no idea how deep the ocean had become, until I noticed a diver with a camera below me at the turn around.  (S)he was so far down, I thought it was a small fish at first - then I saw the bubbles come out of the scuba equipment, and realized it was a person!  I got off course once, but corrected pretty easily.  I did not have too many ladies bump into me.  When I caught the slower male swimmers, it was a bit crowded and had to pay more attention, but for the most part it was smooth sailing and I enjoyed it very much!  In the transition tent, I gave my #fellowflowers to the volunteer that helped me and the volunteer that helped Jessica.

This was a 8 minutes slower than my Lake Placid time, but no wetsuit and ocean swells, so I was not worried about my time.

Bike: 112 miles/7:24:40  The bike course is SO hard.  This is where the island displays in Kupa'a the most.  Somehow the wind is in your face in almost every direction.  The "gradual" uphills take more power than you expect and the real uphills are even more intense.  My nutrition went mostly to plan, so that was good, but my mental "plan" failed - BAD!  Even though I had driven the course, and had clearly ridden the short out and back just after transition, I forgot about it.  I expected the wind to make things hard for me.  I am not a small person, and not very aerodynamic - even when I try :-)  So I just kept watching the miles tick away - I couldn't wait to turn around at mile 56...  except you don't actually turn around until mile 60+.  Just when I thought I couldn't do it anymore, I had a chat with the island.  I told Kona that I appreciated it bringing the Kupa'a that day.  I mean, I couldn't be the girl that finished Kona the year it was "easy."  I looked down at my odometer after the chat and I was at mile 52.  I thought "4 more miles and I get to turn around."  After the turn around it would be downhill and the wind would be at my back.  I can make it 4 more miles.  So when I got to mile 56, and the turnaround was nowhere to be found - I SOBBED!  It's OK, there was no one around me, just me and the island again.  How could I be off - where was the turnaround - the bike is my strength - if I can't do OK at the bike, how would I ever make it through the run - I cried HARD for another 4ish miles until I finally hit the turnaround.  I think I was moving roughing 6 mph at the point - I may have been better off running!  When I finally made it to the turnaround, I got off my bike to use the porta john.  I peed for like 2 whole minutes - and that is all I needed!  I was SO proud of myself for being hydrated.  It was hot and windy, and I had been sweating my brains out - but I still had managed to take in enough fluids that I had to pee for 2 minutes!!  For whatever reason, that gave me back my confidence.  I ate half a banana, thanked the volunteers, and got back on the road.  The first 5-8 miles were down hill and the wind was to my back, I felt good!  Then the wind shifted and I fought it for the remainder of the ride.  The last 4 aid stations were out of drinkable water, so they would dump ice water on us, but we were not supposed to drink it.  I gave my green courage flower to a male volunteer that took extra time to make sure my shoulder shrug was totally doused - he immediately put it in his hair :-)  The crowd heading in to transition was amazing and gave me the boost I needed to get it done - I did tell the volunteer to go ahead and chuck my bike in the ocean, I did not care if I ever saw it again.  (I did just pick it up from Fraser Bike last weekend, 6 full weeks after the race.)

This time was 5 minutes slower that Lake Placid.  Even though IMLP has steeper hills and more overall elevation gain, IM Kona's course was much more difficult for me, due to the heat and the wind.  I am amazed that this time was only 5 minutes slower.  I gave another flower to my bike to run transition volunteer ;-)  All volunteers are amazing, wish I had enough flowers to give them all one!

Run: 26.2 miles/ 5:47:16  Including transitions, I knew I was between 10-15 minutes behind my LP time.  Since I finished IMLP in 15:16, I left for the run knowing I would finish before midnight, but believing the Rockstar goal was not possible.  (I had set goals of Rockstar = 15 hours, Super Happy =16 hours, and Happy = 17 hours.)  I was really OK with that and just wanted to NOT hate the run.  The run is where I learned so much about how I handle limits and how amazing people really can be at Lake Placid.  More than anything, I just wanted to enjoy what was left of day light and get myself to the finish line, without too many more tears!  I had my flowers clipped in my hair and on my belt.  My biggest support on the side of the road, and my next three biggest supporters represented by the flowers on my belt. 

The run course starts along the coastline.  While I had just spent the previous 7 hours, mostly along the coastline, the run portion of Ali'i drive is beyond beautiful.  People come out onto their driveways and celebrate every runner that goes by.  I saw my friends Julie and Jessica pretty early on in the run and they were both looking strong.  I ran a bit with a fellow charity spot recipient from Ironman Foundation, and we compared notes on that crazy bike course.  The daylight portion of the run was fun, hot, beautiful, and did not suck :-)  I did spend a good portion of the early miles trying to find some Vaseline - I was chafing under my arms, very badly!  A volunteer found some for me, and I didn't think much about it after that (until the hot shower, of course!)

I tried to maintain a half-mile run with a .05mile walk, but that only lasted for about 4 miles.  After that, I made a deal with myself that on the downhills - no walking, on the flats - 4 cones run, 1 cone walk - and on the uphills, 1 cone run, 1 cone walk.  I stuck to that pattern for the entire run, up to the energy lab.  The energy lab was so HOT.  I had not had daylight in hours by the time I got there, but the energy lab was still so very hot, I can't even imagine what it was like for the pros in the middle of the day.  I had twisted my ankle just before I entered the energy lab, and was sure I had done some damage due to the pain I would feel every time I tried to run.  I had a dry pair of socks in my waist pack and sat at special needs to put them on.  Turns out the pain was from my ankle reflector digging into my Achilles...  So, I moved the reflector to my tri-top and was able to run again.  My watch gave me a low battery signal in the energy lab too, so I shut off the GPS.  I hadn't paid much attention to it anyway.  As I said, I knew I would finish by midnight, and I did not believe 15 hours was in the cards.  When I turned off the GPS, I saw the time of day for the first time all day.  It was 7:45pm.  I was at mile 17.  Since I started at 7:10am, if I made it by 10:09 pm I would beat my Rockstar Goal of 15 hours.  I immediately started doing the math.  9.2 more miles, 2 hours, and 24 minutes to do it.  I am not sure if I worked it out exactly right, but I worked it out enough to know that it was possible after all.

I had to try.  I stuck to my cone system.  I was not running more than 3 or 4 cones at a time even on the downhills, but I would not let myself walk more than one cone at a time.  At this point of the race, the people left on the course are pretty beat up.  It is crazy dark so you can't see people's faces, but you can see them shuffle.  I felt good that I could still sort of run, and that I was running over half of the time.  The aid stations were rocking and the volunteers were doing everything they could to keep us moving.  I took chicken broth whenever it was available and I thanked every volunteer that I saw.  I was definitely finishing this race, and maybe even in my Rockstar Goal time!

Ali'i Drive, we meet again.  This time when I got to Ali'i drive I got to turn right.  I got to turn towards Mike Reilly's voice.  I immediately saw my teammates Hayley and Eric, their huge smiles are always so encouraging!  Then I entered the chute.  I knew there was no one around me.  I knew Mark was at the finish line, I knew it wasn't quite 10pm.  I can't even type about it without tearing up.  I did it.  I finished Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii with a PR of almost 26 minutes.

Mark was at the end of the finish ramp.  He had a lei to give me and a huge hug.  I was so happy that he was able to be there, I didn't have enough to hold all of my happiness and pride, it was nice to have him there to share it with.  I really did it, and I was so proud.

I did it to prove that we are all worthy of our dreams.  I did it to raise money to help other women feel the accomplishment of making the impossible possible.  I did it to show my daughter that if you believe in yourself, ask for help when you need it, and work hard - you can do anything.  Mike Reilly announced that I had raised $25,000 for Women for Tri and then he told me again that night (after 14 hours, 50 minutes, and 44 seconds) that I was an Ironman!  I have never been more proud of myself.

I know I did not do it alone!  I can never say THANK YOU enough to everyone that supported me in this journey.  As women, we often do not ask and then even when offered, we do not accept help from others.  I am proud of asking because it is scary to be told no, and for accepting help.  As I continue to share my love for Triathlon, I hope that others will learn from my Kona Journey, to ask for help when you need it, and be so very PROUD of every accomplishment - even when you had help getting there!

For my Kona photo album visit:


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