To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement. A day hasn’t gone by without me thinking about “what if”. I was fit, I felt the best I ever felt, and I know I had a legitimate chance to contend for the podium and a sub 10 hour finish. I have no idea where the side stitch(es) from hell came from, but I do know that until then, I was feeling great. There were no warnings signs. It just happened. Until mile 80 of the bike, I was on pace for the fastest amateur bike split by a descent margin (5:06-5:08 vs. 5:13). Had I been able to fuel properly, I would certainly set myself up for a faster run too, but I digress. Kona 2017 is history and this is how it all went down.
Let's back up a bit. I had the opportunity to arrive on the island 2.5 weeks before race day, which gave me a chance to acclimate to the heat and humidity of Kona. Unfortunately I was fighting some sort of a sinus infection for the first few days so training (against my liking) got off to a slower than planned start.
I did kick off my first morning on the island with the tradition of Lava Java breakfast
Once feeling 100%, my final prep was off to a great although very HOT start. My swimming was going well.
My cycling legs were ready to play, and I felt as comfortable as one can in the variety of head/tail & cross winds that Madame Pele was dishing out on daily basis.
My running legs were getting there as well although I did cut a few longer runs a bit short because the heat was plain sweltering and there was no reason to dug myself into a hole I couldn’t climb out of pre-race.
The week before race week flew by fast, and with that the small quiet town of Kailua-Kona was turned into a “shirts are optional, speedo’s are preferred” spot for triathletes from all over the world.
Just as fast as my first week on the island went, pre-race week went by even faster!
I got a little taste of what pro triathletes go through, and took part in a couple of photoshoots/interviews and even started my first biological passport! Yup - I was picked for drug testing (blood). After just watching the documentary "Icarus" this was actually a very cool experience. What wasn't so cool is the fact I didn't eat lunch before I went to register and being selected for drug testing meant no food for 3+ more hours. Lesson learned - never go to registration hungry ever again!
First lots of paperwork (after 2+ hour wait)
The tubes that would eventually hold my two blood samples :)
I also joined the WatieInk Hotties for the annual underpants run and replaced my E3 suit for “Fuck Cancer” one! Great cause if you ask me. We took pics with lots of sweaty strangers, and ended the day with building bikes with More Than Sport that were later given to local Kailua-Kona kids. I just hope I put it together right!
Before I knew it, it was time for my favorite breakfast of race week, followed by red carpet experience a.k.a bike check in, dinner and bed time.
Everything about race day is special! From getting your race numbers applied by volunteers, to weigh in, to pumping up your tires on the pier, to helicopters buzzing overhead, crowds of people lining the sea wall, to treading water in Kailua Bay for what feels like hours, to finally hearing that cannon go off! I get goosebumps thinking about it now.
The Swim: 1:16:45
Hoping to swim around 1:10 (big fail!) I lined up in bit of a more aggressive position than in the past in hopes of finding some faster feet. I truly felt like I was thrown into a washing machine. I was getting punched, pushed and shoved but I held my ground and I was following feet. (Apparently not the right once) At multiple points someone actually even stopped, and started and stopped my Garmin. That's how close we were. Regardless of all the contact, I felt really good the entire swim. I thought I navigated well, and I was always surrounded by others, so when I saw 1:16:xx upon exiting the water, I was momentarily frustrated. I knew I had my work cut out for me, but it wouldn't be the first time. I was up for the challenge.
1:16? Are you kidding me look!
The changing tent was super crowded so I had hoped that perhaps it was a slower swim this year, but that wasn’t the case – I just swam like a turtle!
The Bike: 5:16:08 (2nd AG, 6th fastest amateur bike split)
Ready to minimize the damage, and work my way to the front of the race, I set on a mission. As usual the first 7 miles of going through town were extremely busy, and also quite a bit dangerous. I had long forgotten about my below average swim, and instead of trying to make up the lost time all at once, I stuck to my plan. The plan was broken down into 6 sections. Breaking up the race like that really helps me focus on the task at hand and not look ahead. I took the first 7 miles conservatively, and was exactly on the power I was targeting! I began to fuel, hydrate and cool.
At the beginning of the bike!
Once I made it onto the famous Queen K, I again kept my head down, stayed aero and rode like the wind. Speaking of wind, I think we lucked out this year with fairly mild conditions. That’s not to say it wasn’t windy, or hot or both because it was, but judging by the weather the few weeks before and the days after the race, we got lucky! The number of (please don’t blow me over) moments was limited to a few, and I felt very comfortable out there even with me deep dish wheels.
Turtle time ;)
The ride all the way to the climb up to Hawi was quite uneventful, and I continued to easily stick with my power, fueling/nutrition and cooling.
The climb up to Hawi is about an 18 mile section (not all uphill), and that’s where I encountered the first bunch of guys happily riding in a group that couldn’t be bothered being passed by a girl. The fact it took nearly 45 miles I say is a huge success. Thankfully I was able to drop said group fairly quickly, and continued on my way. There was wind going up Hawi, but it was mostly headwind and only a few sections with mild (mild for Hawi) crosswinds. As I made the turnaround, I now knew I was closing in on some of my competition – you gotta love the out and backs!
It wasn’t long before I passed the eventual AG winner, so I knew I was in a good spot and making up time, especially since we still had 40 miles to go and I didn’t even really press the pace yet.
I “hammered” my way down the Hawi descent (the faster you go, the faster you get out of the crosswinds, right?), and for the first time EVER arrived at the bottom NOT completely cooked and overheated.
Then out of nowhere BAM! The side stitch from hell! Thankfully there is still a short climb back out onto the Queen K that I think is the most difficult section of the whole course because the air doesn’t move there, the sun is beating down and nobody talks about it – because it’s not the Queen K and it’s not Hawi. I hoped that by sitting up, I would hopefully stretch out this side stitch, but nope! With every single pedal stroke, the pain was getting more and more intense and I felt like someone was stabbing me in my lower and eventually upper right abs. Aero position was out of the question for the most part, and so was fueling.The pain just kept getting more and more intense regardless of what I did and so I slowly but surely began to go backwards as I watched my power numbers downward spiral all the way to my recovery watts!
Time to ride like a sail (NOT) ... Grrrrrrrrr!
With 30 (into the headwind) miles still to go, I began to question how I will make it to T2 never mind the finish line. Eventually, albeit much slower than expected I made it! Between sitting up into the headwind and spinning at 40 watts lower than race pace power for over 90 minutes, I have never been more disappointed but also happy to be off my bike.
I hopped of the bike and questioned my existence. I gingerly made my way around the pier toward the changing tents not only unable to stand up straight but also quite a but under fueled. Never having side stitches before, I was actually wondering if there was something seriously wrong with me because the sharp stabbing continued with every breath and step.
The run: 3:37:57
Still wondering how this was going to happen, I began to put one foot in front of the other. Of course my legs felt great because I had just spun my legs out for 90 minutes, but I felt weak and sick of being stabbed in my stomach over and over again. Thankfully it wasn’t long (5ish miles maybe) when the pain finally subsided. How? I have no idea, but it was gone and I wasn’t complaining. But now I was in a huge calorie deficit, and every time I tried eating anything, the pain was threatening to come back.
One step at a time
I walked every single aid station from mile 5 on, and was still ticking of sub 8 min miles and keeping my HR in check, but I knew I was starting to run out of energy. By the time I hit Palani hill, I felt dizzy and weak and resorted to a walk/shuffle. How I kept moving for the next 16.2 miles I honestly don’t know. I ran from aid station to aid station, and walked ALL of them to help me stay cool, and if nothing at least get in some fluids. It was water and coke kind of marathon, since that seemed to be the only thing not waking up the ab stabber.
Almost there! Still the same darn focus to keep moving
Final time: 10:17:57 (9th AG)
Although not the result I wanted, I am proud of my will and determination to fight. I certainly couldn’t be more motivated to get back to Kona and compete again. This year’s race taught me that I can persevere through more than I ever thought, and will most definitely fuel the indoor grind that awaits once the offseason is over. I am hungry, hungry for more because I just know it's there. I can feel it.
Big thank you to my coach – Jorge, to my family, friends, fans/followers and to my sponsors who help me chase my dreams – Quintana Roo – definitely the most comfortable and speedy bike I have ever been on; Refreshinq – for making sure I am healthy and recovering well day to day, Coolcore for keeping me comfy, and cool in training and racing, BlueSeventy for helping keep getting faster in the water and Levelen for allowing me to dial in my hydration. To my supportersCycleOps and FinisSwim - thank you! Your tools play a big part of my training routine on daily basis.
Next Up: Offseason!