The “Umeke” bowl; THE “Umeke” bowl I set my eyes on when I first stepped foot on the Island of Kona, Hawaii in 2012. It was then, at the Banquet of Champions, when ”Mission Umeke” was born!
What is an “Umeke”?
I did my first ironman, and first Kona Ironman in 2012, and I wanted to win. I was naive, I had no idea what it really took. (I wasn’t even close to winning and came 15th in AG), but I had an absolute blast, I hurt more than ever before, but I fell in love with the Island, and the race! I knew I had to get back.
Fast forward to 2014, I had just come off 6th place overall finish at the 70.3 World Championships in Mt. Tremblant. I had 2 more years of training under my belt, and I qualified by winning the overall title at IM Cozumel the year before. I was confident that I had what it took to stand on that podium but unfortunately or fortunately, I came up short. I was 6th (Top 5 get to go on that stage and get the “Umeke” bowl). I sat through the 2014 Banquet of Champions trying to unsuccessfully hold back tears. I was genuinely happy for everyone that made it, but I hurt on the inside because I knew I had what it took to stand on that stage myself.
I decided to race Ironman Cozumel just 6 short weeks post Kona last year to re-qualify. Calculated gamble we took given how fast I was recovering, and given my level of fitness and training at the time. There were a lot of doubters, but I knew how I felt, and I knew I had a chance. I was fortunate enough for my body to hold up, and make it happen, giving me essentially an entire year to prepare for October 10th, 2015.
The moto for 2015 was “Fearless” with Kona being the obvious BIG focus! I even decided to skip the 70.3 World Championships this time in favor of being able to put in one last block of uninterrupted training. My prep was going near flawless just like I imagined it would until life happened. Being physically and emotionally exhausted is bound to take a toll on anyone. I kept plugging through, putting together very strong back to back weeks of training, recovering well, and staying focused as best as I could, but eventually it all caught up to me! As the race got closer, I became more and more of an emotional “mess”. The perfect prep I imagined wasn’t so perfect anymore, and between travelling for work, and a sore foot that came out of nowhere, I started to seriously question my ability to get it done. I ran a total of 4x in the last 4 weeks leading up to the race, but at the same time I had this feeling on the inside of being not just physically but also mentally prepared better than ever. I arrived on the Big Island little less than 2 weeks out from the race, which was a lot earlier than in the past.
This view never gets old! You can Queen K in the distance!
I wanted to get in some last minute training on the course and acclimatize a bit better as well. The island welcomed me with open arms, and really showed me just how unpredictable it can be.
One can be certain it will always be hot, humid and windy but unlike any other race, you don’t know to what degree until you are in the moment! And that is exactly WHY I really LOVE this race and this course. One has to be physically and mentally resilient or else the elements itself will beat you up; never mind the top notch competition!
The first week on the island literally had it all. It was more hot and humid than usual, and the winds were unreal! Since running was out of question, I did a lot of swimming and riding. Kona has been so warm that the only way to keep the pool on the “cooler” side this is what had to happen!
The awesome Kona Aquatic Center - Free I may add
I pretty much swam every day and loved it! I even started to see times in the pool that I haven’t seen in a while! (Bonus for swimming more, and running less or not at all I guess). Or maybe it was just because I didn’t want to get completely embarrassed and lapped every couple min by the awesome pro’s I happened to be surrounded by almost every day. (I must have been on the same schedule as Sebastian Kienle cuz I literally saw him at the pool every day)
I also rode often, testing out different front wheels in case the wind would come out to play on race day. The wind direction was changing every day, the gusts were surreal.
Into the headwind as you can see by the direction of the small bushes being blown against me
Time to try the tri-spoke! Definitely much more steady in the cross winds
The day I rode up to Hawi, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. At times, I was making very slow sidewise forward progress while completely leaning into the wind!
It was laughable and so I rode and I laughed out loud while wishing I was in the car and not on my bike. I was definitely scared shitless and I knew if race day turned out to be like this, it was not going to be pretty for anyone. Thankfully, I was saved from some of the climb (read more wind) and the descend by a flat tire. A hole in the tire rather!
I was happy that I didn’t have to descend in these insane winds, but at the same time very upset because by now, both my powertap and garmin had stopped working, I got a hole in the tire cutting my 60 mile ride down to barely 30, and my running was nonexistent. Less than 2 weeks out from race day, my prep was far from what I imagined it would be!
The rest of the pre-race time was spent doing more swimming, more riding, enjoying the hot, humid island air, eating breakfast at Lava Java before it turned into triathlete central, going through the expo, getting my sweat rate test done by the folks at Gatorade, which confirmed I sweat like a beast; meeting our current sponsors, meeting up with old and new friends, running around in underpants and in general just soaking it all in.
Having fun with the fishes
Mmmmmm Acai Bowls!!!!!!!
Getting my hands on 1 of 100 "Cupcake with Cal" hats! If you have never seen his show, you are missing out!
Soaking it all in
Because who doesn't run around in their underpants
Eventually, I even stopped worrying about the uncontrollable and just focused on “me”! I had a few words with Madame Pele, and had visualized my race from the beginning to the end more than once! I felt super nervous, but strangely also more ready than ever before.
Before I knew it, it was time to “Czech in” my trusty “Fireball”, eat up, and go for it! Time to trust the training even if it wasn’t perfect, and be “Fearless”
Without further ado, here is the race day play by play. .
THE SWIM: 1:18:37 (57thAG)
The most physical swim I have ever been part of here in Kona. Perhaps because I lined up a bit too close to the buoy line, or perhaps because I was swimming faster than before (clearly must have been the starting spot I chose), but I would call the first half of the swim more of a boxing match rather than a swim! I kept getting pushed, and punched and pulled, and a few times I thought I may end up on the ocean floor! I was holding my own even if that meant getting my arms out of the water while everyone else was just trying to hold them down. I finally felt like I had a little bit of clear water when my goggles got knocked of my head the 1st time! This has happened to me before and caused quite the panic attack, so this time around I was ready. I told myself to calm down, put goggles back on, and just keep swimming. I wasn’t going to lose minutes but rather seconds, so I didn’t need to dwell on this for the rest of the swim. Mission accomplished! Not another 5 minutes went by, and my goggles went bye bye again! Since salt water and contacts don’t gel well, I put the brakes on again and put my goggles back on for the second time. Thankfully this was the last time this happened, and the 2nd half of the swim was quite uneventful. I did find couple other girls to swim with, and even though I swam as slow as I did , we were still weaving in and out of bunch of men who started 15 min ahead of us. In retrospect, I did lose my 1st place on the swim, but given the distance (2.6+ miles instead of 2.4), this is where my swim is at right now and unlike last year when seeing 1:18 on my watch completely pissed me off, I remained calm, focused, and ready to move on with my day.
The swim start
I threw on my Castelli Stealth Top which I already had pre-stuffed with my nutrition (5 potato/rice cakes; 3 packets of Powerbar Perform powder), grabbed my shoes and ran to my bike. Shoes on, helmet on, and off I was. I also already had 5 Powerbar gels along with SaltStick Tabs, and 2 bottles of PowerBar Perform ready to go on my bike.
THE BIKE: 5:16:32 (2nd Fastest Amateur bike split, which moved me up to 5th in AG)
The bike was my biggest disappointment last year, and I sure wasn’t going to let that happen again. On race day, the winds were nothing like what I have experienced the last 10 days on the island or the last 2 years I raced here, but there was zero cloud cover. Minimal wind/no cloud cover = HOT! I stuck to my watts, rode from aid station to aid station and just focused on my nutrition and cooling. I was feeling great, and I was on the hunt! I was laser focused, and was holding the mega legs back a bit so that unlike last year, I could have a strong back half of the bike.
All business at the beginning of the ride
I had also made some changes to hopefully prevent overheating and dehydration which slowed me down to a crawl in the 2nd half of the bike last year. Instead of a regular tri top, I wore the new Castelli Stealth Top, I went with a road aero helmet instead of the full aero helmet I wore in the past to keep my head from overheating, and I also went with the front profile design bottle so that I could hydrate even if Madame Pele and the winds were trying to blow me off the bike like last year. Having this water bottle set up allowed me to drink even when holding on for dear life, and it also allowed me to stick with nutrition that I know works for me (PowerBar Perform vs. Gatorade Endurance that is now being offered on the course)
I kept the watts in check all the way up to Hawi, where we were greeted with an awesome (not) rain storm! It was pouring buckets, the winds were all of a sudden blowing hard, and the roads were becoming slicker by the second! Gotta love the unpredictability of the island!
Mega legs in action on the Queen K
I made the turn around at Hawi, re-filled my front bottle to make sure I didn't make the same mistake as last year, and started the ride back to town. The roads were slick for a while, but before I knew it the sun was back out and roads were dry in an instant! I tried to hold the watts up, take advantage of my aero set up, the super fast Castelli Stealth top, and kept picking of people left and right! (No guys, you don’t need to be 200lbs to go downhill fast! There were a few very loud “ON YOUR LEFT” that went unanswered but I have also learned to not let that bother me). The cross wind coming down from Hawi was minimal which made the descent that much more comfortable and safer.
Once back on the Queen K, the winds finally decided to come play, and it was heating up! We were facing some serious headwind all the way to T2! It was also time to push a bit more and hopefully keep gaining time on competition. I kept staying aero, and continued to focus on nutrition/hydration. It was right around mile 90ish, I started to experience the dreaded drafting which included bunch of men and you guessed it, couple of females! I would pass the group, only to immediately get re-passed. I would sit up, establish the legal distance and then set out to re-pass again. This happened a few times, and each time I would get re-passed almost immediately. I even told one of the girls to ride legal, and she responded with the “it’s impossible” bs! Finally, an official showed up,`` gave me thumbs up for establishing legal distance after being re-passed (again), and then proceeded to NOT penalize anyone in the group of at least 10 in front of me- seriously? The ride was almost over and though my watts dropped some in the closing miles as I was starting to get hot and running out of fluids, I felt great and ready to run.
I hopped of my bike leaving the shoes on the bike, and immediately felt the steaming hot ground under my bare feet! It was like someone stuck my feet right into the fire! Ouch! My feet were burning more and more with every single step, and the changing tent couldn’t come fast enough! Sure enough, the damage was done, the bottoms of my feet were slightly burnt, and with that I had the pleasure of starting the marathon with just a few already forming blisters!
The aftermath! Ouch!
THE RUN: 3:39:10
Starting the run, I had no idea just how I was going to run 26.2 miles with my feet feeling the way they were, but eventually it may have been the bright sun and zero cloud cover that took my mind of my feet, or maybe it was the awesome fans cheering hard along Alii Drive! I saw a ton of familiar faces along Alii and appreciated all the cheers and updates!
Smiling along Alii' Drive (Thanks Mike - BlueSeventy for the pic!)
I started the run 5th in AG, running my way into 4th fairly quickly, with 3rd and 2nd apparently not being too far ahead. It was tempting to speed up, but I think I have finally learned that you are not going to win the marathon in the first 10 miles of the race and especially not on this island. For the first time here in Kona I actually ran with heart rate and not pace. I was keeping my HR in check, and although my paces were quite a bit slower than last year, I didn’t let that affect me, and I didn’t let myself speed up. The sun was shining bright, and the wind was non-existent. It was steaming hot on Alii Drive which was not a good news for what it will feel like on the Queen K where it’s that much hotter thanks to the Lava fields!
I knew just how lonely the Queen K can be especially when you enter Struggleville and Bonkville simultaneously, so I really kept focusing on nutrition, hydration, and cooling myself of at every single aid station. Couple cups of coke/water to hydrate, PowerBar Gel every 30 minutes, ice down the shorts, water over head/neck any chance I could. I also wore a Mission EnduraCool Cooling Towel around my neck and a cooling headband instead of visor on my head to help my stay “cooler” a bit longer in between aid stations.
Instead of attacking the famous Palani Hill like last year, I shuffled my way up it even if it may have felt painfully slow. I got to see my coach at the top, telling me that 3rd was just up the road, but I never saw her (until a lot later). One porta potty stop later, I kept moving along, although at this point, my HR started to drop, and the negative thoughts started to creep into my head. When I made the u-turn at the bottom of the energy lab (Mile 18ish), I saw 2 girls chasing me, and they looked to be moving a lot faster than I felt like I was moving. My pace just kept slipping and miles 19-21 I saw the dreaded 9:xx pace. All I could think about was getting caught by both of them, putting me into 6th place and knocking me off the podium again! I felt weak and defeated and when I saw Jorge and Brian at mile 21ish, I just wanted to stop, curl up into a ball and take a nap. At this point I was still sitting in 4th, with 5th and 6th closing in fast! Talk about being in a negative head space!
I don’t remember what coach Jorge said at the time, but somehow, I snapped out of my pity party, and got my shit together. I decided to fight for what I wanted – THE UMEKE! I chugged couple cups of coke, and took off! If I was going to get caught, these girls would have to earn it. In the next 5 miles, I went from watching my pace slipping between miles 19-21 (9:09, 9:15, 9:29) to watching my pace getting faster and faster over the last 5 miles! Hell, I felt like I was running 6 min miles and I certainly wasn’t, but I was racing! I went from giving up and thinking I will get caught, to fighting and believing I will at least hold my 4th and get on that podium! Miles 22, and 23 were 8:51, and 8:51. Not fast, but it sure felt like I was flying after slowing down to 9:30s. I was hurting, but I was fighting, and I’ll never forget that feeling! I then began to see a few females that had passed me earlier on. Around mile 23, I moved into 3rd, and just kept moving! I not once at all thought about what was going on behind me anymore, my mindset had completely shifted. I was completely locked in and focused on my own effort and controlling my own destiny. I didn’t pay attention to my watch at the time at all, just pure effort. I knew I had 3 miles left but really only 2 because the last mile of the Kona Ironman is almost like a “free” mile! It’s mostly downhill, the fan support is unbelievable and somehow you can usually make it through that one on pure adrenalin! I kept trying to pick up the pace, and ended up dropping the pace even more at miles 24/25 to 8:27, and 8:25. Considering both of these miles have a slight elevation gain, this was huge. I made it to the top of Palani, and to my surprise saw coach Jorge again! At this point I could see two more girls down the road (not in my AG), and apparently 2nd place was now 1 min ahead of me. Jorge was literally screaming at me to give it all I had and be “Fearless”!
1 min – 1 mile! I didn’t even think, and just threw myself down Palani. I literally ran as hard as I could. My HR soaring, my legs screaming at me, blisters finally popping (that didn’t feel good), but this is my favorite mile of Ironman Kona and I couldn’t stop then. I was looking for one more girl. I absolutely flew by the 2 girls in middle of Palani. I rounded the corner on Kuakini Highway and this section is a bit cruel because although it’s not uphill, after flying down the steep Palani Hill it feels like a mountain. I was running hard, and everyone was cheering me on. I finally spotted Amanda who was sitting in 2nd in my AG, and she was good 50 yards ahead. I kept fighting hard to keep the pace up and finally got closer to her right before the last turn on Alii. I was quickly running out of energy and as I was getting closer and closer, I was trying to figure out if I should slow down and try to save the last bit of energy for a finish line sprint or if I should just go now and hope that she wouldn’t go with me. I decided to just go for it now, and after a brief breather (like 2 steps), I just shut my eyes and ran as hard as I could to hopefully make a statement and not even give her a chance to go with me.
Running hard after I made the pass. Now where is the finish line?
My strategy worked, and when I finally turned around to see if Amanda was there, she wasn’t and I got to enjoy the finish line! Mile 26 – 6:38 pace! What?
I can’t even begin to explain what was going through my head, and how I felt! It was an out of body experience, and one I will NEVER EVER forget. It wasn’t my fastest marathon, and nowhere near my goal time, but one I am the most proud of, and one that I will draw upon in the races to come!
The best feeling EVER!
On top of the world!
What my coach put into my race plan couldn’t be more true! Here are his words:
“I have zero doubts of your fitness ad capabilities. However what’s going to make the difference between getting the Umeke or not is going to be your mental strength on race day. The way you respond to the challenges that the day will invariably throw at you will be the determining factor. Hence I want you to race with mind-sight over eye-sight.”
“Racing by mind-sight means racing with a mindset that no matter what, you can always overcome, you can always find a way around, you can remain in control, you can adapt; but regardless of the challenges, you will never let it phase you, let you lose the belief that you are here for you, here to win, here to accomplish your goal. Mind-sight is a state of mind, it’s confidence, it’s assertiveness, it’s belief, it’s being FEARLESS!”
What a difference a year makes!
The BEST stage ever!
It's still a bit surreal, but what a day! Pinch me!
Thank you ALL (family/friends/sponsors) for YOUR support!
Thank you ALL (family/friends/sponsors) for YOUR support!