Kona Race Report

October 8, 2011

Ironman World Championships

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

 

I’m writing this a full 10 days after the race.  I had hoped to get my thoughts on paper sooner, but I just wasn’t ready.  I should have done it then, because I am shocked that in only 10 days the whole thing just seems like a dream I had, a really amazing dream.  I apologize in advance for the length of this post.  It’s likely to be long-winded, even for me.  I need to remember every detail I can of this day.  Outside of our wedding day, it was the most amazing day of my life.  If it makes you feel better, it will take less time to read this then it did to do the race.  Although, now that I think about it, it might have taken me just as long to write this as it did to race.

I had my alarm set for 3:45am and hoped to catch a 4:45am shuttle to the race site.  This was probably the easiest time I have ever had getting up for a race before.  I hadn’t really adjusted to the 6 hour time difference in Hawaii, so I had been getting up around 4:30am every morning anyway.  I had also slept really well thanks to the Tylenol PM I took.  I swear, one the night before every race does the trick for me.

Ironman race morning, for the most part, is a pretty easy morning.  I had already racked my bike and turned in my transition bags the day before.  Today, I only had to get my nutrition for the day and dress myself.  Simple enough, you’d think.  Somehow, though, with the nerves of race day I found myself having one of those mornings where I caught myself putting my deodorant in the refrigerator instead of my water.  I’d put something down and then immediately forget where I put it.  Poor Ryan basically followed me around trying to find the things I had lost.  I was a bit of a mess.  At one point, he just stopped me and held me.  I don’t remember what he said, but for just one minute of this day, it felt so good to be still and to try to find my center again.

Amidst the craziness, it was nice to get a phone call from Reston.  Scott, my coach, and the rest of the FeXY folks at the Saturday morning Reston bike ride gave me a call to wish me luck.  It was great hearing some familiar, and not so familiar voices.  I have felt so supported by the whole team during this journey.

After trying to force food down my trap and packing the rest of my bags, it was time to leave.  The shuttle arrived right on time and after a quick ride, I found myself at the race site a little before 5am.  Two hours til go time.  So far things were going smoothly.

We walked around to the back of the King Kamehameha hotel for body marking.  As soon as we got there I saw that this would be the goodbye point.  Once you went in, you were in.  I would have to leave my mom and Ryan here.   I immediately got a little choked up.  Ryan and I do this together.  I’ve never raced a triathlon without him.  I wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet.  Ryan must have seen the panic on my face and just told me that I had plenty of time.  “Why don’t we just sit down for a little while,” and, so, we did.  Again, I’m not sure what we talked about, but it was comforting just to sit there.  It was only a few minutes.  I was starting to get antsy and just wanted to make sure my bike was all set up.  I finally got up to say my goodbyes.  I gave the biggest hugs ever to both Ryan and my Mom and made my way into the body marking tent.

I’ve never been body marked with stamps before.  We’re in the big time now.  It’s the small things that amuse me sometimes.  I waited for a volunteer that was near the fence where Ryan and Mom were standing.  I was chatting away with the volunteer when I noticed that Ryan was taking a picture of something over my shoulder.  I turned around and there was Crowie walking through.  A bunch of people cheered, applauded and wished him luck.  That’s one of the coolest parts about triathlon.  Amateurs rub elbows with the professionals.  It really makes for an amazing atmosphere.

I walked around the corner toward transition.  I gave one more quick goodbye to Mom and Ryan and then, I was alone.  There were hundreds of people around, but I felt really alone.

The next stop is the weigh in.  I weighed in at 115 something.  It’s a little heavier than I was hoping to be on race day, but there was nothing i could do about it now.

You keep walking around the back of the hotel past where the hotel dumpsters are.  It stunk.  Trash in Hawaii still smells like trash.  Hot trash.  The women next to me said, “they don’t show you this in the Kona footage.”  It cracked me up.  They sure don’t.

From there, I made a quick stop at the sunscreen table and then, finally, into transition.  The first section at the front was the pro transition area.  It’s fenced off from the rest of the athletes, but you could clearly see pros getting ready.  I scanned the area,but tried not to lurk like some others were doing.  The atmosphere was thick.  It was a big day for these folks.  It doesn’t get any bigger.

Finally, I made my way to my bike.  Honestly, this is what I was most nervous about.  I would have to pump my own tires.  Agggghhhhhhh!  Ryan is the bike mechanic in our household.  All things bike, including the pumping of tires falls under his purview.  I had visions of something apocalyptic happening.  There was a guy with a pump.  I asked him if I could borrow it.  Turns out silly German bike pumps don’t work on my valves.  My nervousness continued.  There was a friendly volunteer with a pump.  He was happy to help me.  He held the nozzle on my values while I tried to use the pump.  Fail!  I had all my weight on this damn thing.  I even had one foot off the ground and I couldn’t even get the pump handle down.  Lame.  That’s when you know it’s time to eat a damn sandwich.  My tires were supposed to be filled to 110 lbs of pressure.  Not so easy when you’re 115lb yourself.  Another guy saw me jumping on the pump and came over to help.  So, now, the volunteer is holding my bike, I’m holding the nozzle and another guy is pumping.  What a loser.  I’m sitting there thinking, “you are in the world championships of your sport.  You are a putz.”  With that done, phew, I was breathing a lot easier.

From there, there wasn’t much left to do.  I put my bottles on my bike, filled my aerobottle, went to the bathroom and the I just sat down and stretched.  I had been having tremendous pain in my right hip and lower back.  I was hoping that if I sat and stretched, it would somehow save me issues in the race.  The pain had been pretty constant all week.  I wasn’t too optimistic about how it would feel once I got to the run.

Once I was done with all that, I just sat inside the transition area near the exit.  There wasn’t anything to do but wait.  I made small talk with the other racers around me.  For the most part, the mood was chatty and friendly.  The vast majority of racers I talked to were just happy to be there and not really stressed about their time.  At least, that is what they’d say.  While I had a time goal, my main priority was to finish in good enough shape to enjoy the rest of my vacation.  There was a girl sitting next to me, though, who was really quiet.   It made me wonder what her goal was.  It’s crazy to think that around me are people who are gunning for the top spot in their age groups.

The pro start neared and we watched as the Who’s Who of triathlons best passed us to head to the water.  I didn’t want to waste the energy trying to watch their start, so I just sat and listened.   Mike Reilly announced the big names, a traditional Hawaiian singer sang the National Anthem and then BOOM!  The cannon went off.  Holy cow.  The race has started.

Immediately after, the age groupers started moving to the swim start.  I took in the last few swigs of my sports drink and started moving with the herd.  Dig Me Beach, the entrance to Kailua Bay is only about 20 meters long.  That’s a really tiny place for 1,900 people to enter the water.  It was 6:35am and we were all slowly being funneled onto the beach.  Mike Reilly kept yelling for everyone to get in.  I looked at my watch.  We had 25 minutes before the mass start.  There was no way I was going in to tread water for that long.  It’s a deep water start about 75 meters off shore.  I’m not sure how deep the water actually is, but you definitely aren’t going to test it.  From swimming earlier in the week I knew that the bay floor was sand for only about 10 meters.  After that point it was nothing but coral and sea urchins.  Knowing all this, Mike Reilly could yell at me as much as he wanted, I was not getting in yet.

I looked around at the thousands of people crowded around the swim start.  I had no idea where Ryan and mom were.  I was pretty calm at this point.  There was nothing to do but execute.  With around 13 minutes to go before the start, I slowly started making my way in.  The water there is cooler than I would have expected.  I was imagining bathtub-warm Caribbean water.  This definitely had a briskness to it.  As soon as you put your face in, you can see fish everywhere.  It’s like swimming in an aquarium.

I made my way out to the swim start and spent the next 10 minutes calmly floating on my back like I was enjoying a summer afternoon at the pool.  I’m amazed at how calm I was.  I was also shocked at how open the water seemed.  I believe they allowed for a wider starting line this year, so the field was pretty spread out.  It never had the congested feel of the mass start at Lake Placid.  I watched the clock tick down.  A guy next to me wish me luck.  And then the cannon went off.

I was expecting to feel pummelled like I had at Lake Placid.  I reminded myself to keep my breathing calm, but the crush never happened.  There were definitely bodies hitting bodies, but I never had anyone swim over the top of me.  I felt immediately relieved.  “This is a joke,” I thought.

I had been swimming for only a minute or so when i saw underwater a person without legs. The legs of their swim skin were pinned up so they didn’t just drag along behind.  This was my first reminder of the day that this was Kona.  Today, I would be along side all those amazing stories you always see in the Kona footage.  It made me feel like what I was about to do wasn’t so daunting.  Just as I was starting to wax poetic about how this inspirational, brave guy was going to slog out the day, I realized he was swimming faster than me.  Great.  That’s humbling.

I felt good for me though.  I concentrated on form and on my breath.  I thought I was moving at a nice pace.  Things got a little jammed up at the buoys, but I kept moving along. 

Seeing the divers underneath was pretty crazy.  It felt like they were every 15 meters.  I almost wanted to stop and wave.  It felt like there was a whole underwater audience.

Time kept passing and I felt like I had to be getting close to the turn around buoy.  I could see the turn around boat in the distance, but it didn’t seem to be getting any closer.  The course is a 1 loop course.  So you go 1.2 miles out and 1.2 miles back.  The course runs parallel to the shore about 250 meters out.  That’s far enough that you definitely feel like you are in the ocean.  It gets pretty deep at points.  I’d say probably 30-40 feet.  The way out was pretty smooth, but once I finally made it to the turn around and started heading back the other direction I could feel pretty big ocean swells.  I had been a little worried about getting sea sick, but I seemed to be doing okay.  I took a peek at my watch.  I thought it said 38 minutes, which was great.  I knew I had started it 2 minutes before the cannon went off, that would put me at a 1:12 swim if I could do the same speed back.  I was forgetting, though, that you actually swim further on the way back because you have to end up back at the shore.  I definitely started to fatigue on the return trip, but I kept my mind on form.  I felt like I was swimming forever.  Again, I could see the shore, but it wasn’t getting any closer.  Finally, with one last push I made it to sand.  I saw my time was 1:14.  My perfect goal was a 1:10.  I knew that would be a stretch though.  I was pretty pleased with a 1:14. (Garmin Swim file: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/120719914)

I ran up up the stairs and through the showers and headed into T1.  Like I usually do, I had mentally rehearsed the layout of transition, but it just wasn’t flowing for me.  I also didn’t really have a fire under my rear.  The changing tent was packed, a volunteer didn’t come to help me for the first minute or so, I fumbled by myself through my bag.  Finally, a volunteer came up to me and I asked her for help to put on this UV shrug I had gotten to prevent from getting fried.  She kept giving me the arm inside out to put on.  Nothing seemed to go smoothly.  I stopped at the next volunteer to get more sunscreen and then off to my bike.  Everyone runs the same distance, but my transition spot was terrible.  I was close to as far away from the transition exit as you could get, which meant a long way to run with my bike.  It was all a bit of a mess.  I felt like I was moving through mud.  Total time was 4:17.  I was hoping for a minute less.

Finally, though, I was on the bike.  It felt really good.  I got clipped in pretty easy and went flying up the short hill on Palani.  I heard Ryan and Mom scream and then  I was off.

“Oh, my God.  I am on the bike course in Kona.” 

The first 9 miles are like a Nascar loop.  It’s several quick turns before you head out to the first out and back down Kuakini Highway.  Three times in those 9 miles you pass through the Hot Corner.  It’s the name given to the corner of Palani Drive and Kuakini Highway that racers pass through 4 times in total on the bike and three times on the run.  A spectator can stand in once place and see each athlete come through 7 times.  As a result, the place is packed!  It was like a crit going through there.  I was passing a ton of people, but I knew I needed to watch my heart rate.  I scaled it back.

I flew through the Hot Corner for the third time and heard mom scream again.  Then, it was the short, steep climb up Palani before a quick left.  Finally, I was on the Queen K’ahumanu Highway headed north.  I swear I had to pinch myself.  There I was, riding down the Queen K, smiling like an idiot.  There was a decent tail wind.  I was moving pretty nicely and loving every minute of it.  A few times when I found myself in the vicinity of someone I’d tell them, “We are riding on the Queen K!”  It was pretty cool.  At the welcome banquet, Mike Reilly had said, “The only thing you control on race day is your attitude.”  I was determined to stay upbeat and positive the whole day.

 I kept a close eye on my heart rate and made sure it didn’t get too high.  I didn’t want to crawl into T2.  I wanted to feel strong still at the end of this bike without having the bonk I had in Lake Placid.  I kept reminding myself that this wasn’t a bike race.

At around mile 35 I heard someone say “Hi”.  It was my new friend Andrew.  I had met him originally at American Triple T Ohio in May.  I had to pull out of that race because of a foot injury.  At the time, he had been really nice and offered to put me in contact with his Trigger Point connection.  We ran into each other earlier in the week at Kona and I just laughed and said, “Well the foot thing turned out okay.”  When he passed me, I was trying to pull my shrug down further on my shoulders.  He pulled up beside me, helped me pull it down, wished me well and kept going.  It’s funny to run into a new friend on the Kona bike course.  This sport makes it a very small world.

At mile 40 you take a left off of the Queen K and start heading toward Hawi Town.  Shortly after making the turn, I saw my first glimpse of pros coming the other way.  Predictably, Lieto was leading the men, but I was surprised at how far back Chrissie was on the women’s field.  I yelled for her when she passed.  It was just awesome to be on the same course as them.  It was also interesting because, while I couldn’t really tell who they were, there were more than a few pros that were sitting up and looked like they were giving up on the way out of Hawi.  I remember thinking that the conditions must be tough if the pros looked that way.

Despite the excitement of seeing the pros come, I was dealing with a sudden change of conditions.  This is where the epic winds of the bike course typically are.  I had ridden part of the course on Thursday before the race, and while it was definitely windy, it was manageable.  I’m so grateful that I was mislead on Thursday because what I encountered on race day was shocking.  I could not believe how windy it was.  The head wind and hills started simultaneously at mile 54.  It was indescribable.  I’ve heard about the winds.  Nothing can prepare you for riding in them.  The headwind would blow so hard at times I was convinced I was going to come to a complete stop.  The crosswinds were just as bad.  I was physically leaning into the wind to keep from being blown over at times.  I could watch as the wind would catch the rim of my wheel and just turn my handlebars out of my hands.  Seriously, you have to experience it to believe it.   My average speed heading into this part was around 20 mph.  For the next 6 miles it would be close to 12mph.  The only redeeming thing is that I knew once I got to mile 60, the turn around at Hawi Town, I would get to come down the hill with the tail wind.  I remember reading an interview in the weeks leading up to the race where a pro was describing the Kona bike course.  He said that the Kona course isn’t about being the fastest.  It’s about strength.  I kept chanting “strength” to myself in my head with each (slow) revolution of the pedals.

It felt like forever, but finally I made the turn around in Hawi.  As soon as I changed directions, I felt like I had been shot out of a rocket.  The next 6 miles were like a roller coaster.  I didn’t have enough gears to go faster.  I was in my fastest gear spinning at 35mph shooting down the hill in aero.  The cross wind was still blowing, though.  That’ll rattle you while you’re flying down hill.  I passed a ton of people here, people who were probably being a little more sane that I was.  I’ve said this before, but there is a point in endurance sports when you get so tired that you no longer care about your own personal safety.  That is where I was coming out of Hawi.  I could see people struggling in the other direction and would cheer for them.  It was only a short while ago that I was in their shoes.  I was feeling energized and strong again.

After the initial 6 mile downhill following Hawi, it starts to roll up and down again.  There is one slow climb before making the turn back onto the Queen K.  There was a strong headwind off the ocean, you’re at mile 80 and you’re going uphill.  It does not make for the most ideal combination.  My average speed for this mile was 12mph.  It was a tough slog.  Everyone around me was grinding up the hill against the wind.  At this point, spectators are few and you are alone in the middle of a lava field.  It started to weight on me.   I saw the intersection of the Queen K ahead of me and I was pleading in my brain for a tail wind, or at least no wind once we made the turn.  It wasn’t going to be that easy.

The next 16 miles on the Queen K were tough.  I found myself starting to mentally fatigue.  My goal had been to finish the bike in 5:45.  I had thought I was on track for this but the wind was having other ideas.  I watched my average speed drop, but there was nothing I could do about it.  I only had 14 miles to go, but at my current pace, it could take me another hour.  Ugh.  Then, almost out of the blue, at mile 98 things changed.  Suddenly, the wind changed and my speed started picking up.  I was so grateful.  I felt like I was flying the rest of the way again.  I felt strong, but I was ready to get off the bike.  With just a mile left, I passed the mens and womens leaders who were heading out the Queen K for the run.  I saw Craig Alexander looking strong with a large margin on the next guy.  I was anxious to see how the womens race was shaping up.  At about mile 13 of the run I saw the womens leader.  I couldn’t make out who it was, but I knew it wasn’t Chrissie or Rinny.  Whoever it was, though, had Chrissie about 30 seconds back and closing quick.  I knew it was her race to lose at that point. 

In the last mile or so, I spun my legs out and tried to assess how I felt.  It had been a mentally taxing ride.  It was going to be a tough marathon.  I flew back down Palani, heard Ryan and my mom yell for me and ran into transition.  I caught a glimpse of my time and saw that I had come in under 6 hours.  I was happy with that given the conditions.  If I had taken a closer look, I would have seen that I actually only finished 4 minutes over my ideal goal time of 5:45.  I wish I had paid more attention to this heading into the run.  I headed into transition feeling like I was much further behind my original time goal than I actually was.  This would come back to impact my run.(Garmin bike file: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/120719914)

As uninspired as I was in T1, I was even less so in T2.  I was tired and about to start a marathon in the Kona heat at around 2pm.  Things were about to go from tough to tougher.

While I don’t remember feeling the heat so much during the bike, the minute I got off my bike in Kona, I felt like I was in a furnace.  In the days leading up to the race, I had actually been shocked at how cool it was.  For months, vets of the race had been telling me about the oven-like conditions and then I arrived in Hawaii and needed a long sleeve shirt.  The highs are typically only in the mid to upper 80s, which isn’t a big deal.  Afterall, I had raced the 2010 IM Louisville on a day when the temps reached 100 degrees.  That’s right, three digits.  1-0-0.  In fact, I seem to thrive in the heat.  Part of me started getting a little arrogant about the whole heat thing.  Ryan reminded me in the days leading up to the race not to anger the Island Gods with my disrespect.

What I came to find out on race day is that the issue isn’t the heat, it’s the sun.  The first few days there in Hawaii were pretty overcast.  Race day, though, dawned brilliant and sunny without a cloud in the sky.  As I started the run, I had the immediate sensation that I was getting baked.  To make matters worse, I reached up to get my sunglasses off my visor and realized I had either forgotten them in T2 or I had lost them somewhere along the way.  Great.  I heard Ryan and Mom yell.  I wanted to make sure they didn’t know how negative I felt right now, so I smacked hands with Ryan and tried to look positive.

 I had already been afraid and gun-shy about the run because I had been having so much hip and back pain in the week leading up to the race.  The pain in those last 5 days had been some of the worst pain I have ever had.  Running had gone from something that has brought me such happiness to something that I literally became fearful about starting.  That fear had crept into my brain and sabotaged my usual running confidence.  As soon as I started out of the transition area, my brain started mentally scanning my body for problems.  I was shocked to find that my hip and back actually felt pretty good, but my mind locked onto a foreign tightness and pain in my right IT band.  I looked down at my Garmin to get pace data for the first quarter of a mile.  I had started out running an 8:40 pace.  Uh oh.  Running off the bike usually feels really good to me.  At both Louisville and Lake Placid I had to actively slow myself down from running in the 7s the first mile or so of the marathon.  Here, I felt labored and yet was running high 8s.  This isn’t a good sign, I thought.

I have heard two schools of thought in terms of how to treat your goals when racing at Kona.  Some people try to train for and race it as hard as they can, others (the majority of opinions, I’ve found) say that they would treat it as a victory lap of a great season.  They’d take it easier, enjoy the experience and not try to kill themselves.  Afterall, with the competition as stiff as it is, does it really matter if you finish 30th in your age group or 60th?  My goal coming into Kona was clear.  I wanted to race it.  I wanted to try to finish sub 11 hours.  My previous fastest IM was Lake Placid in 11:08.  I knew I was trained and ready for a sub 11.  If I have any regrets about my race this year, it is that in those first few moments of the run, I allowed my fear and doubt to compromise that goal.  I felt the sun baking me.  I felt my tight IT band and gave myself the out to not push forward with my original plan.  I was face with two roads and I took the easier one.  In fact, I never even looked at where my overall time was heading into this run.  If I had, I would have learned that a 3:48 marathon would have taken me to a sub 11 hour Ironman.  I am confident that if I had known that, I would have made it  happen.  Instead, I caved.  That is my only disappointment of the day.  If I had been stronger and made better decisions in the first 3 minutes of the run, I think things would have been different.

I had already given myself the mental permission to walk whenever I wanted from the very beginning.  Then, I thought of Ryan and Mom and how I didn’t want to make them wait around as I walked a marathon.  I thought of my supporters at home tracking me.  It was around 8:30pm EST already, I didn’t want to make anyone stay up ridiculously late to watch me.  I thought of the words my high school track coach had written on my wall.  “Be a warrior,” he wrote.  “You owe it to yourself.”  I knew it was true.  I had worked so  hard in training.  I did owe it to myself.  I owed it to the people who had supported me as well.  So I kept running.

The course starts out up a small hill (awesome) and then heads south for a short out and back.  You run out 5 miles and then head back to town.  After that, you head north for another 8 mile out and back.  I knew that if i kept running, I could make it back into town after 10 miles, get the lift from seeing Ryan and Mom and then only have 16 miles left.  I asked myself,  “Lisa, can you run to the first turn around at mile 5?”  I assessed, and responded that I could.  I also started to implement a tactic that I have used in other tough races and that is what I call the Honest Assessment.  “Lisa, how to you actually feel?  Take an honest assessment.”

“Is your breathing controlled.”

                “yes.”

“Is your body okay?”

                “yes.  I’m tired and sore, but nothing more than I should be during an Ironman marathon.  I just don’t feel like running anymore.”

“That’s not a good enough reason.  Keep moving.”

…and, so, I’d keep moving.  I’m pretty sure that these conversations are going on within the confines of my brain, but it’s possible that I just look like a crazy woman talking to myself.  At any rate, the bargaining continued.  I reached the first turn around at mile 5 and assessed.  “Lisa, can you just run 4 more miles back to where Ryan and Mom are?”  “Yes,” again, I responded.  I felt like the sun had been cooking me on this stretch.  The course runs right by the condo we were staying at.  Thankfully I knew the pool required a key to get into because otherwise I would have seriously considered jumping in to cool myself off and then hitting the run course again.  I was maintaining a steady 8:30-8:40 pace and was passing people.  My honest assessments were revealing that I still felt okay.  Keep moving.

About 8 miles in, the sun went behind the clouds and life got a whole lot better.  Suddenly it didn’t feel like I was running in an oven.  I was so grateful.  I got to where Ryan was waiting.  It was great to see him.  I rounded the next corner onto the Kuakini Highway and heard my mom screaming.  Then I made the turn up the hill on Palani.  I had told myself that it was okay to walk this hill.  It’s one of those steep hills that the energy you exert running up isn’t worth the time saved.  I got passed by about 5 people who did a death run up the hill, but I passed them all back within 2 minutes of the top of it.  Finally, I was back on the Queen K and feeling okay.  I had 16 miles to go.  Keep moving.

 

The sun made its return after only a 4 mile reprieve.  The clouds disappeared and once again we were running in a sauna.  I was melting.  I was running on asphalt, through lava fields and I felt like I might just die on the side of the road.  It was hot.  The run down the Queen K felt like an eternity, but finally I made it to the last turn into the Energy Lab.  There’s been much talk about how difficult the Energy Lab section of the course looks, but when you’re not racing, it looks like a joke.  It’s only about 3.5 miles long and on a cloudy day looks like a lovely place for a run.  I had seen it in the days before the race and I was not worried.  I believe it’s called the energy lab because of the solar panels that cover the place.  My guess is that a lot of energy was generated on race day.  I made the left turn into the lab.  It was about 4:30pm and the sun was blazing in my face.  Even in my delusional state, though, I could appreciate the beauty of the place.  The sun was lowering over the Pacific.  The view was spectacular.  The run in is downhill on the way in.  I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run back out.  I hit the final turn around and started on the way back up.  It was so hot.  I realized that my lungs and throat were sore like I had inhaled hot steam.  I would find out later, that while the air temperature high was only 87 degrees, the temperature at the roads surface that day was over 130 degrees.  Finally, I just gave in.  I walked for a minute on the way up out of the Energy Lab.  I could see the motivation board about a quarter of a mile up the road.  It’s a place where your loved ones can have an electronic message waiting for you when you cross the timing mat.  I made myself run the rest of the way to it.  I was happy to see a message from my mom.  Now, I just had to run back to her.

It was mile 19.  I had 7 miles to go.  I looked at my run time so far and knew I needed to run 10 minute miles to go under 4 hours.  I just wanted to finish before dark.  That became my new goal.  Again, if I had looked at my total time, I would have known that running an 8:48 pace for the last 7 miles would take me to a sub 11.  Who knows what could have happened?   Instead, I let myself walk when I wanted to and ran 9:48s for that last stretch.  I’m kicking myself now a bit, but there is no way to put yourself back into the position of discomfort you are in during that time.  Rational choice doesn’t always triumph. 

It felt like forever, but I finally saw a traffic light ahead.  Please let that be Palani Drive.  It was.  I let my feet pick up down the hill and heard the crowds of people lining the street screaming and telling me I was almost there.  A few more quick turns and I saw it, the famed Ali’i Drive.  It’s a legendary place in our sport.  I was surprised to see that there wasn’t a gate keeping the fans out.  Ali’i is completely open.  The spectators give you just enough room to squeak by.  Beyond that, they are right there, screaming, clapping and putting their hands out for high fives.  I slapped everyone I could.  It was an electric environment.  Everything I could have dreamed of.  I saw the lights of the finish line, I threw my fists in the air and screamed.  I was so happy to be here and to be done.  I heard Ryan yell for me.  I heard my mom screaming.  I saw the clock read 11:07.  It was only then that I realized I would still have my fastest Ironman time by a minute.  I threw my fists in the air and screamed again and crossed the finish line.  I was exhausted and grateful.  (Garmin run file: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/120719945

Someone put a lei around my neck and a cold towel around my shoulders and walked me to the post race area.  Ryan had said they would find me here after.  I was so tired I couldn’t speak.  I made my way to the line to get my finishers medal and I could feel my knees starting to feel like they were going to buckle.  I tried to take a few slow breaths.  I was waiting in line for a finishers picture and I started to get dizzy.  I just needed to make it through the finishers picture.  I could pass out afterward.  If I didn’t have a finishers picture, I would kick myself.  He snapped the picture and I tripped over myself trying to get off the platform.  I knew I needed to go to the med tent.  I stumbled over to a table and told someone I needed help.  Thankfully, he just put his arm around me and guided me to the medics.  Just as they were leading me in, Ryan and my Mom saw me.  Family aren’t allowed into the med tent, so Ryan no doubt spent the next 30 minutes trying to keep my mom from freaking out.  I can’t say I blame her.  I’ve seen pictures of how I looked afterward.  It wasn’t pretty.  As it turns out, I had done a great job of staying hydrated all day.  I lost less than a pound throughout the day, but the heat had just baked me.  They kept me in the tent feeding me broth and checking on me until I felt strong enough to walk out.  I was so happy to finally be with Ryan and Mom again.

The two of them rallied to make sure I had something to eat, had all my stuff together and to guide me home.  It was a tough hour.  I was just starting to feel better and was walking back down Ali’i Drive toward our condo when I saw a triple amputee running down the road to the finish.  It was so inspiring.  I though of all the reasons and excuses this guy had to give up and, yet, here he was finishing the Ironman in Kona.  I felt myself get choked up.

I continued the slog home.  I was exhausted, but happy.

I am disappointed that I didn’t make it back to the finish line to watch the last finishers cross.  It’s the only Ironman I’ve done that I haven’t been there for the midnight finishers.  I was just way to wasted.  I got home, showered, assessed the damage, ate and went to bed.  It was over.

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Post race thoughts:

This trip was life altering for me.  Not just because of the race, but also because of the magical place that Kailua-Kona is.  I could write another volume about all the things I learned about myself in my 10 days there.  I feel, though, that it’s time to put it behind me and start looking forward.  It has been such an amazing experience, but I don’t want to dwell on it anymore.  I needed to get this race report over with.  I’ve been struggling to write it.  I feel like I want to focus on the goals this has left me with instead of looking back.

Despite writing about some of the things that disappointed me about my performance, I am exceedingly happy with my race.  Sure, I didn’t hit my ultimate goal of a sub 11 hour time, but I still broke my personal record on the most challenging course I have ever experienced.  I am extremely proud of that.

During the run, I remember thinking that I never wanted to do this race again.  Once was enough.  Predictably, it took less than two days for that feeling to end.  I’ve already started to plot out how I will get there again.  No time soon, though.  First and foremost, I need some time for my body, but most importantly, my mind to recover from this year.  It has been physically and emotionally draining.

Ryan and I signed up for the 2010 Ironman Louisville to scratch it off our bucket list.  I don’t think we expected to do another one at Lake Placid less than a year later and I certainly didn’t expect to race Kona only 11 weeks after that.  Our one Ironman has turned into 3 in 14 months for me.  I need some time off.

I think what I am most grateful for is the sense of peace I have now that I’ve competed at Kona.  I’m grateful that it isn’t a goal I have to chase anymore, for right now at least.  It’s given me a hunger to keep getting better.  I strongly believe that the best is still to come, but I don’t have this urgency that it has to be now or never anymore.  I will get there again, I hope, but for me right now there is a whole other life out there to be lived that I have neglected for 2 years.  There will be a time to focus on Ironman again, but for right now ,that time is over for me.  I’m excited to see where the next part of this journey takes me.

 

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3 thoughts on “Kona Race Report

  1. Mindy McCloskey

    You continue to be an inspiration to many. So proud of your accomplishments and loved following you on race day. I appreciate your putting it into words for those of us that will never make that trip!

  2. Angela Swanson

    This is an amazing story Lisa. (I got goose bumps only a few sentences in.) Reading about your experiences, emotions and feelings throughout the race, and how you kept yourself going, got me choked up and left me in tears. You are not only an amazing athlete but an amazing person, wife, daughter and friend. The connection you have and love you share with Ryan is truly amazing and to most people, only something we encounter in a dream. Thank you for being such an inspiration.

  3. Jaclyn

    Omg I am just reading this for the first time after just learning about your blog on FB today. You are incredible. What an awesome story. I knew you ran IM Kona but hearing your story was awesome. You are part of an elite group of athletes! Love your determination.

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