Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Ironman Kona 2016 Race Report

After spending 2.5 weeks on the island, I was beyond excited for race day, and I was feeling the butterflies! I was what I call confidently nervous. Whether racing here for the 1st time or 4th time, the combination of excitement and nervousness is the norm, which makes race morning breakfast quite hard to get down. (This is no doubt my least favorite meal). I think this year I was nervous the most even though I was probably prepared the best! I had very high expectations of myself which isn’t anything new, but I also knew just how hard it will be to top last year’s performance. I really wanted to improve upon it, and I was afraid of letting so many people down if I didn’t. Self-pressure is real!

I woke up at 3:45 so that I could be done with my usual breakfast (bagel with peanut butter/jelly, banana and “Beet It” powder mixed in with apple juice) by 4:15 as I like to finish my breakfast 3 hours before race start to ensure it’s properly digested by race start (7:10am for all female amateur athletes). Shortly after breakfast, I was on my way to the transition area, and in a long line of athletes waiting to just get in. I really felt like the security at this year’s event had been stepped up - they even had sniffer dogs! (Sadly this is now the world we now live in and I would rather be safe than sorry).

Once in the body marking/transition area, I picked up my tri tats number (I picked up my number from the very same guy that guided me through transition the day before! Out of the thousands of volunteers I ran into the same person two days in a row – that surely must mean good luck, I thought). I then had another awesome volunteer apply my race numbers and finally got weighed in. This is not to make you feel bad about yourself, but rather for medical purposes and for your own good. It allows the med tent personnel to easily determine just how dehydrated or overhydrated you may be post race in case you do earn a trip there. They really don’t mess around here!

Then it was finally time to re-unite with my sexy beast; I mean my bike.

Mr. Flash Ready to Go! 

I pumped up my tires, added on my nutrition (Fluids, and 6 PowerBar gels) and then I added a few last minute essentials into my T1 & T2 bags – my race top (Castellli Stealth Top) pre-stuffed with my rice potato cakes (I wouldn’t want to leave those overnight) and PowerBar Perform powder packets into my T1 bag, and completely frozen Nathan handheld thermal water bottle into my T2 bag so that I could start the run with plenty of cold fluids to have whenever I wanted to. That was something I have never done before, but after learning how much I sweat particularly on the run thanks to the great support and work I have done with a company called Levelen, this was going to be important! If you struggle with your nutrition/fueling - you should check them out! The information they can give you is simply invaluable. Here you can also read how coach Jorge developed my fueling plan for race day. 

Click here to check out me entire fueling plan

After that I dropped of my morning clothes bag and went to find coach Jorge. I am quiet and focused race morning so not much gets said, but it’s always awesome to have him there. 

 Nervous but ready smile 

Now enough with the pictures already! 

The sunrise race morning was amazing, and I took a moment to appreciate just how incredible it was to be there!  (I unfortunately don’t have a photo to show you because I shy away from electronics on race morning – I mean business). Before I knew it, it was time to get the party started. For the first time ever, I got in a little swim warm up at the beach behind the King K hotel. I only did a couple hundred yards with some pick-ups but it helped to ease the butterflies and got my heart rate up a bit. I was even a bit chilly but I knew this was going to be the last time I felt like that all day so I didn’t complain. In fact I was trying to figure out how to bottle up that feeling for later.

Shortly after I was walking down the stairs into the water and my feet hit the sand of Kailua Bay. It’s really hard to explain what that feels like, but it is very special. This was my 4th time, and I don’t and never will take it for granted. I had a few words with Madame Pele and swam up to the start line.

I positioned myself about half way between the buoy line and the shore near the Roka floating sign and couple rows back in the hopes of jumping on some fast feet that would carry me to a new swim PR. The 10 minutes of treading water while surrounded by 100s of your closest friends while getting pushed around by the waves and trying not to kick anyone or be the recipient of a pre-race charlie horse feels like eternity!  And then all of a sudden the count down is on 30, 10, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 boom! The butterflies disappear! GO TIME!  

THE SWIM: 1:13:22 (5 min PR)

The “relatively” calm waters of Kailua bay get quickly churned up and the race is on. Everyone goes full speed ahead, yet it feels like there is nowhere to go. I don’t have the starting speed (yet) to get away and find clear water, so I was what felt like completely stuck in the middle of a washing machine.  I was getting pushed, and pulled and the jockeying for position was real! I don’t even know if it was so much jockeying for position as much as it was the fact we all just wanted to make forward progress. I held my own ground and defended my own “mini” space. There were a few times where I suddenly had a bit of clear water, but not for long. I took that as a sign that I was swimming faster since the course seemed much more crowded than ever before. I was keeping the effort in Czech. I felt smooth and strong, and I didn’t have that usual panic of getting lost and swimming off course (I have done that many times before). I swam straight, I sighted well, I drafted at times and I was swimming in a group. I glanced at my watch at the turn around and saw 33 min. I smiled a little on the inside, and even though I knew better to not simply double my time (the way back has historically always been slower), the thoughts of a 1:10 swim began to pop in my head.

This is seriously what I felt like half way through the swim! I do love my BlueSeventy two piece too :) 

I may not have a fast start, but I am “diesel” engine and tend to either speed up or keep whatever speed I have during the 2nd half of Ironman swims. As a result, I usually end up swimming in no man’s land but not this time. I really focused on passing whoever was slowing down, and getting on some faster feet for the way back. Mission accomplished! I had a company of a few female swimmers and together we were making our way back to the pier. I found a pair of feet and I stayed on them 90% of the way back. With each stroke my excitement was building. I continued to feel strong and relaxed. We had to weave in and out a lot of men and I eventually lost my feet but at that point I could see the pier, and I was oh ever so close!

The last couple of hundred yards seemed to last forever, but when I finally made it up the stairs and glanced at my watch and saw 1:13 ,I was beyond excited! It wasn’t the 1:10 I wanted, but it was a 5 min PR and probably my best executed Ironman swim to date. I wore the same Garmin as last year and although I know the swim distance may not always be correct I swam 4,399 yards vs. 4,608 in 2015! Progress!

 My BlueSeventy swim skin surely contributed to my improved swim time, and I had ZERO chaffing! 

My brand new pair of Nero Race goggles (I like to wear a new pair for races) was perfect for the conditions! 

T1: 3:13

I sprinted through the showers, grabbed my T1 bag and ran into the changing tent that was beyond packed! I guess that’s what happens when you swim a little faster. There was literally nowhere to sit and all the volunteers were busy! I just stopped in the corner and did what I needed to do on my own. Threw my trusty BlueSeventy swimskin and Nero Race goggles into the bag, put on my Castelli Stealth Top pre-stuffed with all my nutrition, along with my favorite pair of Swiftwick socks and of I went.

THE BIKE: 5:22:05 (Fastest AG, and 4th overall amateur bike split)

It’s always easy to start too hard especially when riding through town! This section of the course is lined with spectators, and even though I really tried to hold my horses back I still rode a bit too hard. It was what I had to do to stay out of the draft zone of others. When I hit the famous Palani hill, I really made sure I wasn’t burning too many matches. My power was still up there, yet I was getting passed left and right by people just hammering away out of their saddles, and rocking side to side willing their bikes up that hill.

Thumps Up going up Palani and feeling good! 

Once on the Queen K, I just put my head down and settled into my race pace! I was focusing on my effort, fueling, and cooling!  I felt strong and was riding well. I would slow down at every single aid station to grab extra water to cool myself of and I always kept 2 bottles of water on my bike in addition to my Profile Design bottle between my aero bars. I know it’s not exactly very aero and I may have lost some time there as a result, but in favor of not overheating and having the ability to have extra fluids for not just drinking but also cooling in between the aid stations, it was well worth it and I would do it again. I also decided against the rear hydration set up for ease of access.

2 bottles on the frame; profile design aero bottle on the front and one sexy bike! 

Of course the head wind picked up about 20 miles into the ride and never stopped! Although I love to go fast, and I love a nice tailwind, I know headwinds do play to my advantage due to my aggressive riding position. The windier it was, the more people I began to pick off one by one.  I knew some of the girls I was up against, and I always judge how I am doing based on the spot I catch them on the bike course.

By the time we began the climb to Hawi around mile 42, I had already passed a few competitors that I normally wouldn’t see until much later, so that gave me a nice little extra boost for the 18ish mile climb up to the turnaround at Hawi. Of course we had a headwind most of the time, with an occasional crosswind or two, but it wasn’t the worst I have ever experienced.

Once I got to the turnaround, I saw Gary (husband of one of my favorite 35-39 AG speedy competitors – Michelle Barnes whom I both met at IM Texas), and he told me who was up ahead and how far! I couldn't believe it! I was closer than ever before.  I also happened to see one of my major competitors hanging out at the penalty tent (She went 25 min faster than me last year), so I knew I was racing well! I made sure I started the descent fully loaded on fluids, and took off. The crosswinds were blowing a bit, but I just put my head down and put the power to the pedals.

Flying with the tailwind down from Hawi (You can see the direction of the bushes on the side indicating much needed although momentary tail wind) 

I love to descend, and I love to go fast. The winds at Hawi do scare me no doubt, but I always think the faster I get down, the sooner it will be over – not quite sure that’s the safest logic, but that’s what it is. I averaged nearly 35 mph for little over 6 miles on about 65% effort! Talk about flying! Makes me excited just thinking about it! Mr. Flash is FAST!

It didn’t however last long and the rest of the section my average speed dropped to barely 22mph! Not that that’s not fast, but after going 35, 22 feels like standing! It was on the descend from Hawi that I went by another one of my competitors Hailey, whom I have shared a few IM podiums with before. This was definitely the earliest I have seen her on this course so it gave me yet another little boost.

I knew I had to keep the pedal to the metal if I wanted a chance to get the “W”. The last 30 miles of this course have always gotten to me before, and I still didn’t get it completely right. (I guess I'll have to try again).  I knew my power would most likely drop a bit due to the nature of the course, but I let it drop a lot more than I wanted to. 

The power wasn't quite there at this point, but at least I was staying aero and still moving fast thanks to Mr. Flash! 

I was still cooling like a champ, and for once didn’t overheat, but perhaps the lack of electrolytes I somehow lost about 30 miles into the ride had finally caught up with me. (Had I known I actually lost them, I would stop, but I had no idea I lost them until I went to reach for my container with SaltSticks and it was gone!) Because I not only sweat quiet a bit but my sodium sweat concentration is very high, I needed to be taking anywhere between 1,400 – 1,500 mg of sodium every hour on the bike. When your daily (not hourly) recommended value is 1,500, you get the picture. I get some sodium from the drinks, gels and rice/potato cakes, but the 2 additional salt pills I should have been taking every hour weren't happening. Was that why I was struggling to hold my usual power late into the ride? Maybe, but we will never know, and such is racing. I kept moving along as best as I could ignoring my power meter and at least staying fueled and hydrated all the way into T2.

 Around the corner from T2 - still staying aero and doing my best with what my legs were giving me. 

Feet on top of the shoes - ready for my flying dismount! :) 

T2: 3:20

I may not be able to do the flying mount, but I have perfected the flying dismount. I “flu” of my bike and headed toward the T2 tent. I wore my favorite pair of Swiftwick socks on the bike for one and only reason – NOT burning the bottoms of my feet during the run from the bike to the changing tent (I did last year and lesson learned – never again!). This time the tent was completely empty, and I had about 5 volunteers taking care of me – what a treat! Cycling socks off, fresh pair of Swiftwicks on, Dr. Cool cooling towel and headband on, and with my still semi frozen Nathan handheld I was out of there.

THE RUN: 3:31:38 (Run PR)

I started the run 2nd in Age Group which is the highest I have ever been starting the run. Again – I was trying to hold my horses back and not go out too fast! My running has been going really well, and I was ready to show it. 

Excited at the very start of the run decked out in my Dr. Cool cooling accessories and of course my Castelli Stealth Top! 

I ran by HR the first 10 or so miles and was really trying to keep it in control. The crowds along Alii’ drive make it really easy to go out way faster than one would like. 

Checking the HR early into the run


I have learned the hard way. It’s all fun and games until you shuffle up Palani hill and turn left on the famous Queen K. All of a sudden the crowds disappear and it’s you, your fellow competitors and your brain! The terrain is nothing but flat – it’s either slightly up or slightly down, but it feels much more up and down when running rather than riding. The heat is radiating of the road and the lava.It just seems like the road will never end until you take a 90 degree left hand turn into the famous energy lab.
Energy Lab – the place where air doesn’t move; the place that owned me the last 3 years BUT not this time. (Well at least not as bad as in the years past).

I used my special needs bag for the first time ever and picked up another still nearly frozen Nathan handheld water bottle that I used to cool myself of on the way out of the energy lab! The gigantic Cliff bar sponges while in the energy lab were also life saving. 

Two feet nearly off the ground in the energy lab is always a good sign! 

I was slowing down, but never let my pace drop below 8:30 min/mile which in comparison to my 10 min miles the first time around, 9:30 the next, low 9s the next is another step in the right direction.
I was definitely hurting, but this time not giving in. I was now running from aid station to aid station and just chugging coke and water like it was my job. I didn’t quite get the same boost like I did last year in the closing miles of the race, and ended up getting passed twice around mile 25. It sucked, but I had nothing left to respond. I threw myself down Palani as best as I could (I LOVE downhill running), but I just couldn't close the gap. I really tried going with the girls, but the tank was empty. My brain was telling me to go, but my body had nothing more to give, and THAT is a great feeling. 

 So so close now! 

The best "last" mile of any Ironman! 

Yes – I went from 2nd to 4th in my AG at the end of a 10 hour race, but I gave it my all and cannot be disappointed. I left it all out there, and for the first time ever I was happy with the result even though I didn't reach the top of the podium like I wanted to. 

 The smile says it all 

 This feeling NEVER gets old! 

It hurts SO good! Couple hours later, and a few hours in the med tent and all is good in the world again! The chicken soup in Hawaii is damn GOOD! 

 Did I want to be faster? You know it! Did I win? No! Did I reach my goal? No! But I finished the race having no regrets, with a new Swim PR, run PR AND overall Ironman Kona PR of 10h13min, and with more fire in my belly then ever to come back and try again. I will win! ;)  

 The 35-39 podium on the best stage ever! 

Coach Jorge (the mastermind) and me! 

 The World Champion - Lisbeth Kenyon and me

 My "Umeke" at the beach! 

Celebrating at one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been too! "Umeke" came along :)

Till next time :)! 

As always Thank You to my sponsors and supporters without whom I wouldn't be where I am today. E3 Triathlon Coaching and coach Jorge was his constant guidance, Quintana Roo for one speedy ride and the constant support at all races, BlueSeventy for the super comfy swim suits, skins, wetsuits and goggles, Levelen for all the sweat rate testing and help with dialing in my fueling/nutrition, Dr.Cool providing me with all the cooling products anyone could ever need especially in Kona like conditions, and of course Castelli Triathlon for the super speedy/comfy & cooling kits and training apparel, CycleOps for durable enough trainers that withstand all my sweat, and Beet Boost and Elevated Legs to keep me going strong for as long as possible while feeling fresh! 

I am one lucky girl, and can't wait for 2017! The plan to come back and climb to that top of the podium is in full effect! :) 

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