Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ironman World Championship - Kona 2014

It’s been almost a month since THE race, and my mind is still racing. I have so much to say, yet I don’t know where to start. Every time I sit down to put my thoughts on paper, my fingers get paralyzed. I shut my eyes, and I feel like I am there!

October 11t, 2014 – almost 7 am, treading water at Kailua Bay in Kona, Hawaii surrounded by hundreds of other super fast women, and spectators, waiting for the canon to go off to start THE race I had my eyes set on winning for the last 2 years.  I did say “winning”, and I did say “2 years”.  

I have a tremendous respect for this race and Kona to me is a very special. Yes – it is the World Championship but it will also forever be my very first ironman! Talk about throwing myself into the “fire”!  It further presents the greatest challenge for my body and mind. It is 140.6 miles of unpredictable, where every little mistake, misjudgment, and weakness gets magnified. As Jan Frodeno said: “It’s paradise, and it’s hell all at once”. 

Paradise! The best sunsets in the world brought to you from the dinner table

Riding your bike through the lava fields can turn into "hell" very quickly

The atmosphere on the island is absolutely electrifying and hard to put into words.  You really have to be part of it to understand. Whether as competitor, volunteer, spectator, or just a tourist that happened to vacation on the island during the 2nd week of October, you will feel something special and even you may start walking around town in spandex of half naked ;).

 Gotta love the underwear run!

Love me so Barnana! 

Just getting to Kona is a journey! It is a long process! One that requires a lot of dedication with which comes sacrifice! And although triathlon is an individual sport, it takes a village, and I would like to thank mine for allowing me and helping me to chase my dreams.

I arrived on the island full week before the race, which meant I got to  swim/bike/run a little on the course, get acclimated to the 6 hour time difference, and soak in the atmosphere that this race brings with it. Unlike two years ago, when I toed the line as an ironman rookie, this year I felt a certain level of confidence that I really do belong here. The chiseled, “I am in the best shape of my life” bodies walking around town didn’t intimidate me. I 100% believed in my preparation and my own ability to end up on top of that podium. I knew anything can happen, but I also knew that if I execute my "perfect" race, I’ll give myself a chance to stand on that IM World Championship podium with an “umeke” bowl over my head that I had dreamed about so many times.

Fast forward to race morning. The dreaded breakfast  (it’s always a struggle to get it down), the unusual body marking process (because if you made it here, we will just have people apply race number tatoos on you in the am), the moment when you are asked to step on the scale which becomes very important post race in case you really do leave everything out on that race course, the “long” walk to find your bike racked on the famous pier to get it ready to fight the elements out on the Queen K.

The final minutes once all that is taken care of always feel like hours! That was true especially this year, since this was the first year of wave starts, and we were the last wave to go off at 7am – 10 min after the AG men, 30 min after the PRO women, and 40 min after the PRO men.  

THE SWIM: 1:18:23

I was really nervous, but as soon as I entered the water, and looked around, I knew I was ready to fight.  The swim start in Hawaii is special! The last 5 min of treading water was a great indication of how the swim would go. Just because there were less of us, didn’t mean it was going to be any less physical. To the contrary, I was getting kicked and pushed around before we even started swimming but I held my own. I wasn't  happy to just be here, I wanted to win. I took one last look around me and before I knew it, the cannon went off.


I felt great, swimming steady and pretty effortlessly. Although I didn’t start on the buoy line, I made my way to it fairly soon, and had quite a bit of company along the way. The water was choppy, but I felt great even though I kept getting pushed and kicked and smacked from both sides pretty much the entire way out to the turnaround. As we started to near the turnaround we started to run into blue caps which given the conditions became a bit more difficult to navigate. The chop kept increasing, but I continued to feel very good while passing more and more blue caps (men) and working with a few other women that were swimming around me. I had my Garmin set to beep every 10 minutes, but I was so in the zone and concentrated on the task at hand, I didn’t even know how many beeps I have heard so when I heard one loud beep as I was nearing the pier, I was super excited to see the 1 hour mark. Instead my Garmin read 1:10, with at least another 500 yards to go which threw me for a loop and with that a pretty big emotional let down.  The quiet, calm and focused head of mine went into a full on brawl. I was not happy, and I just couldn’t understand why I swam so slow when I felt so good! I felt like I let myself and few others down in a big time.

 I end up smashing my knees and tripping on those steps every time!

In retrospect, I ended up swimming almost 2.7 miles which would actually explain why I felt so good. 1:18 for 2.7 miles sounds much better than 1:18 for 2.4 and would be right around the pace I was hoping to actually swim. None less it was time to keep moving, but even though I was really trying to leave the swim behind, it kept popping up at the forefront of my mind for a bit longer than I would have like it to.  

THE BIKE: 5:21:15 (6th fastest amateur bike split)

This one is a tough one to write about. Yes, it was hot, and yes it was incredibly windy - as in athletes getting blown of their bikes windy but that is Hawaii. I felt awesome getting on my bike and although I spent the first 10 miles still thinking about how I could have felt so great but swim so slow, my power numbers were falling right where they needed to be. I may have ridden more centuries this year than I did during my entire triathlon career and as a result, my pacing was dialed in! 

Trying really hard to forget about the swim! 

Once I made it onto the Queen K, I finally put the swim behind me, put my head down, and went to work. I kept riding by feel, but was locked in within the power ranges my coach and I discussed prior to the race for different sections of the race. I would slow down at every aid station to grab fuel whenever I needed or at least a cold bottle of water to cool myself off. The wind was real, and the heat index was rising. I found myself pedaling downhill in a small front chain ring just to go 10mph – did I mentioned it was on a downhill? I didn’t let that get to me but it was seriously windy. I kept moving, staying aero and before you know it, I was climbing up towards the turnaround at Hawi. The road went up, and my numbers went up with it which was the plan.

I continued to feel great until I didn’t. The descend back from Hawi was rough! I usually strive on the downhills and have no fear, but I was worried I may not make it down in one piece. I tried to relax as much as I could while still moving at a descent clip (at times way over 30mph), but between the strong crosswinds/gusts and watching people being blown all over the road right in front of my eyes, I was scared. I lost the great rhythm I had going for the first 60 miles of the race and I also neglected my to this point spot on “cooling” and drinking. I drank when I thought I could let go of my handlebars which wasn’t too often, so by the time I got to the bottom of Hawi and back on the Queen K around the 80 mile mark, I was boiling. It was then in the heat and wind of the moment when things started to fall apart. I made the decision to stick to “x” pace, instead of putting my head down and getting it done. The last 30 miles were rough. I had some great moments where I was able to get back into my rhythm and just get it done, but I had some sections during which my power plummeted to numbers I would normally only see on a recovery ride. The wind was still out in full force and it definitely wasn’t cooling. I did get back on track in terms of cooling and nutrition, but the “damage” was done, and decision to back off was made.

Looking back, yes, I moved through the field all day long making my way from 50th after the swim to 5th in my AG, passing a total of 601 athletes and posting the 6th fastest female amateur bike split, but it is the leg of the race I am disappointed about the most. I failed to capitalize on my strength, but I will be back to make it right!

Despite the hot and windy bike, and due to my decision to roll through the last 10 miles with ease in favor of not overheating or destroying myself, I rolled into transition feeling good and ready to run. 

THE RUN: 3:36:05

I had one thought running through my head at the beginning of this run, and that was to NOT go out too fast as I did the other two times I raced this distance. It didn’t help I had one of my competitors running about 25 yards in front of me the entire time, but I was trying my best to hold back, so I could actually run when it counts the most (The last 10K).  The second thought I had was to cool and fuel at each aid station. I was like a robot moving through every single aid station and grabbing just about anything that was being offered to me. Sponges, ice down the shorts, water, coke, water, more ice, and just keep moving. 

No idea what I am doing with my hands BUT probably telling myself to slooooow down! 

I was staying cool, in control, running pretty much right on pace plus or minus a few seconds here and there. Around mile 3 or 4, someone on roller blades with a camera in his hands started to follow me and finally asked a few questions, and in Czech! Aaaaaaah, Czech TV here. Oh boy, I better look like I know what I am doing ;). (You can see the shortened clip here, but a 1 hour Czech version of the race was shown few weeks ago back home). I got almost 30 seconds of fame! 

I kept ticking of the miles, and even felt great going up the famous Palani hill. I was really confident and happy, I was finally going to nail this marathon thing off the bike! I started to become pretty emotional, which obviously happened way too soon, but it happened. I started to slow down a touch around mile 16, and by mile 18/19 things started to fall apart quickly. Just in time for the famous run through the energy lab! Even though by this time we had a cloud cover and it was nowhere near as hot as it was the time I did one of my training runs in there (if I remember correctly it may have even rained some while I was in there), I was struggling big time and started to question my existence. The super positive emotional state I was in just a few shorts miles away, turned into how the heck am I going to survive the next 7 miles! I kept moving as best as I could, but it wasn’t pretty and the count down to the finish line was on. The typical “why am I doing this” popped up in my head more than a few times in the last 6 miles. I am not counting the last 1.2 because I call it the “free” mile. No matter how much you are hurting that late in the race, the last mile in Kona is special, and the fan support has the ability to take all the pain away (temporarily). I threw myself down Palani, and emptied the tank as I crossed the finish line. 

 Happy, and exhausted

 Wobble Right 

Wobble Left
 Finishing Time: 10:21:29 (6th AG – 30-34; 17th amateur female, and 46th Overall including Pro’s)

Couple hours, and about a gallon of chicken soup and some time in the med tent, I was alive and smiling again :) 

I was very bummed to miss the podium by 1 spot (again), but that’s racing, I had nothing more to give on that day, and for that I have zero regrets. There were a few other women that were stronger than me, and made better decisions than I did. Congratulations to them all!  Watching everyone get on the podium the next day to get their “Umeke’s” made the tears flow again but coming short has only made me stronger.

See those Umeke's on that table? There is one with my name on it, I know it! ;) 

Although I “crumbled” when it counted the most, it has already proved to serve as an invaluable fuel to fire for next time, because I’ll be back with a new laser focus and a better physical and mental game! Not to waste any time, the quest already started and I made the decision to toe the line of IM Cozumel in couple weeks. Race number #2221 if you are to full from Thanksgiving dinner and want to follow my progress on race day ;)