October 22, 2016

Ironman Wisconsin 2016: My Ticket to Kona

Start of the Journey

On November 14, 2014, I received an email from Ironman telling me I was selected to compete in the 2015 Ironman World Championship from the Ironman Lake Tahoe lottery after the race was canceled due to a forest fire. I was beyond excited, but I really wanted to qualify to compete there. I thought there was a chance I could do it at Tahoe, but as fate would have it, I’d never get to find out. So I talked to my coach, Jorge Martinez at E3Training Solutions, signed up for Ironman Wisconsin 2015 and set a goal of qualifying there just one month before competing at Kona so I could go to Kona again in 2016.

Life doesn’t always go as planned and on July 1, 2015, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my hip. Wisconsin was out and I was initially told Kona was also not possible. Since I don’t give up easily, I found a new doctor and worked with Jorge to make it to Kona with the ability to complete the race and enjoy the experience, albeit on the slow side. It was beautiful. And it made me want to get back to the Big Island more than ever.

We sat at Lava Java before the race and decided again that I would aim to qualify at Ironman Wisconsin the next year. And that officially started my journey to back to Kona.

Build Up

I chose Ironman Wisconsin as my goal race for a number of reasons. It’s where I did my first Ironman, I’d raced it four times and love the course, my family lives in Madison so it’s my adopted hometown, and the race was on the 15th anniversary of September 11, which had extra special significance for me as a New Yorker.

The first phase of training kicked off over the holidays with a heavy swim focus. Having averaged 1-2 trips to the pool a week at best in the past, it was a rude awakening to be going 5-6 days a week, especially in the cold, dark months. I often hated it, but I did it, and for once I did the drills and followed the workouts and waited for the pay off.

I also did a lot of work on the bike over the winter, aiming to get my FTP back up to my pre-injury level and develop strength. I spent many early mornings on my KICKR, riding 4-5 days per week. I actually enjoyed this, which helps a lot!

In the build to Wisconsin, I also raced at Ironman Lake Placid as a tune up and test. I had done well at my last couple races placing 10th AG and finishing between 11:17 on a flat course, and 11:46 on hilly courses, but had never truly raced to compete and was still about one hour short of the top spots. I needed to put the plan to the test and see if I was capable of being a contender so we went into Lake Placid with a goal of top 5. While I’ve had some big goals in past races, it was my first time racing against competition, rather than against a time goal, and I was lucky enough to have Jorge and my teammate, friend and Ironman idol, Jana, to support me on the course and keep me updated on where I stood. I came off the bike in 6th, but quickly passed into 5th, and made my way to 4th near the halfway point of the run, finishing in 4th place AG. I had the 3rd fastest bike split, but my run was not what we were aiming for. I was overjoyed with my first Ironman podium and had a lot of learnings to apply to Wisconsin.

Recovery and Final Prep

The 7 weeks between races consisted of a week of deep recovery with some days off, some easy swimming and spinning, and my first run just four days after the race. Then I ramped back up into a moderate week with a 65 mile bike and a few shorter runs, before going back to high volume for the next three weeks. I was started to feel the fatigue of the long season and I was also struggling to get back into the game mentally even though WI was my goal race. Work was really busy and at times I was barely staying afloat, but I kept at it. While it felt like everyone else was tapering, I was still going strong and had a 70 mile ride and 12 mile run on the schedule a week out from the race, but thankfully Jorge pulled the long run and declared my taper to officially begin with a much more pleasant 45 minute run. I was feeling good, but was so happy to get some rest!

Heading into race week I felt way better than I did before LP. I was much less fatigued, but was still sleeping a ton and feeling the benefits of the rest. I focused on getting my head into the right place, doing a final analysis of my competition, and reminding myself every single day that I had the ability to be at the top of my AG and earn my Kona spot. Someone had to win, and there was no reason it couldn’t be me. Since I started this sport, I’ve found that if I boldly share my goals it feels more likely I’ll achieve them. I spent the past year telling anyone who asked that I was aiming to qualify for Kona at Wisconsin. As race day drew nearer, this goal weighed heavily upon me, but it kept me focused and motivated. I realized I was as ready as I was ever going to be and it would come down to how well I could execute the plan, and how well my competitors executed their plans.

Race Morning

Race morning arrived faster than ever and it was time to go. I had my usual 3am breakfast of an English muffin with almond butter and honey, as much of a banana as I could stomach, coffee and two bottles of Ensure. I woke up feeling more calm than I’d anticipated, but also very reflective. I scanned the news and social media posts about 9/11 and spent the early morning hours feeling grateful to have the chance to do what I love surrounded by family and loved ones. I was staying with my parents as always, and Scott had flown in Friday night to be there for the big day. The only thing missing was my sister and her husband, who’ve been at every IMWI I’ve raced and even a couple that I didn’t, but this time they couldn’t make it. I had their support from afar though and literally could not have asked for more. My heart was really full that day.


IMWI is one of the last Ironmans to have a mass start, which I still really love. I got beat up badly in LP with my aggressive start position that served me well pace wise, but I paid for it with heavy contact due to my less than great swim execution. Wisconsin is also one big loop so you don’t end up swimming into slower swimmers like you do on a two-loop swim.

I got into the water about 10 minutes early and swam all the way out to the buoy line. It was surprisingly not crowded and I asked the people around me for their goal times to be sure I was in the right place. Most were aiming for 1:05-1:10 so I settled in and floated until the gun went off.

At the beginning of the LP swim I was so nervous I felt sick and was flooded with adrenaline for the first 500 yards or so. But at WI when the gun went off I felt really calm and in control. I took some typical mass start contact, but nothing major, and within a few minutes I was in relatively clear water and feeling strong. I migrated slightly inside the buoy line and was focusing on swimming straight. The first stretch was a little crowded, but for once I was passing and holding my position when others passed me. There was a bottleneck at the first turn buoy where people stop and moo like cows (for Ironman MOO, as the race is often called), but I navigated through and only slowed a bit.

The next stretch was straight into the sun and full on contact so I just tried to get through it as best I could. As soon as I made the turn for the long back stretch I settled in and was swimming what I thought was my best race ever. I occasionally glanced at my watch and my pace was consistently 1:37-1:39/100, which is really good for me. I felt great, my sighting was strong and I was handling the crowds better than usual. I was certain I was on track for a big swim PR.

As I exited the water I looked down at my watch and saw 1:14 and change. I was a little disappointed. I swam 1:14 in LP and was hoping for 1:10-1:12 in WI, but I didn’t let it phase me. A big part of my race plan was to finish each leg of the race, forget about it and keep moving forward regardless of whether or not I was on goal.

Time: 1:14:13


I made a quick stop for the wetsuit strippers and ran for the helix. Ironman Wisconsin is pretty unique in that the transition takes place inside a building. And not just any building, but a Frank Lloyd Wright building with a curly-cue parking ramp leading up from the swim and down from the bike, referred to as the helix.

A lot of people came out of the water with me so it was jammed, but I managed to pass a few people and keep the momentum going. I found my bag quickly and ran into the change tent where I stood off to the side and put on my socks, stealth top loaded with nutrition (which took a lot of struggling with the help of a volunteer), helmet and sunglasses, a spritz of sunscreen that cuts through water, and grabbed my shoes for the long barefoot run to the bike. The transitions in WI are incredibly long, particularly T1 which has the run up the helix, then a run the entire length of the bike transition area in both directions.

I quickly put on my shoes when I reached my bike, ran to the mount line and cruised down the opposite helix. I felt like I had moved as quickly as I could, but would later discover I was about a minute slower than my last time racing at WI.

Time: 7:10


The big learning coming out of LP is that while I rode what appeared to be a perfect bike effort exactly at 70% normalized power, my average power was low and my variability was high due to a lot of power spiking as I passed on flats and started climbs. Lake Placid has just a few big climbs so it’s much more manageable than Wisconsin, where there are nonstop rollers that often hit 8-11% grade in spots. These short, steep bursts can lead to major burn out. The course tends to be faster than LP on the bike, but a lot of people pay for it on the run. I’ve ridden it multiple times in training and racing so I felt pretty well prepared, but needed to focus on not burning too many matches.

 Jorge broke the course up into 4 segments for the first loop and 3 for the second, each with an average power, normalized power and maximum power target. The beginning of the course is always really crowded and not 500 feet off the helix, some guy nearly sideswiped me. Sadly it wouldn’t be the only time during the ride due to the increasing number of people racing Ironmans with very limited bike handling skills. There is a long no passing zone just a couple miles into the ride so I knew I’d be losing some time there. I was also trying to keep my power conservative so I felt I was getting off to a slow start and was feeling a little frustrated.

Best Bike Split predicted my Lake Placid ride at 5:49 and I rode it in 5:49 on race day. So I was rather excited when it had me at 5:39-5:41 in the days leading up to the race, adjusting slightly as the forecast changed. The last time we looked was Saturday night and I was looking good for 5:40 so the goal was 5:40-5:45. However, as it often does in Wisconsin, the forecast changed overnight and we ended up with a windier day than anticipated. It wasn’t intense wind, but just enough to make the effort a little harder and a little slower, but I wasn’t aware of it in the earlier miles. I was expecting an average of 19.5 or higher and was barely maintaining 18.9.

I hit the end of the “stick,” the section leading out of town to the loop, and my power was a bit low and my pace was far from a PR. I was well into my nutrition plan of one bottle of Skratch/Gatorade, one gel and two Clif blocks per hour and overall I felt really good. My legs felt fresh, I wasn’t depleted from the swim and the temperature was absolutely perfect.

I headed out onto the loop and got ready for the hills, gaining some speed as I passed through the first, flatter part in Verona. There were a couple hills to pay close attention to in this next segment – a roughly 5 mile climb into Mt. Horeb that starts as a false flat and gradually increases before a steep climb at the end. I’ve always thought this is a section where people blow themselves up without realizing it so I paid attention to my numbers and was exactly where I needed to be. I started leapfrogging with a lot of guys and this would go on for miles. I was riding a steady power and they clearly were not, so I just ignored them and focused on my own race. I saw more than a few of them walking on the run.

The next hill was THE hill that had everyone talking for two months leading up to the race. Due to road work, they had to take out the famous three climbs that make the IMWI course so challenging, but also so much fun since they are lined with spectators, tents and people in costumes. The new route took us up a beast of a hill called Barlow Road that was around 1.5 miles of heavy climbing with a quarter mile section of 12% or more grade, with bits in the 18-22% range. It was such an all out effort that my head and arms were burning. I love climbs like this, but not so much in an Ironman! The reward was a very fast downhill and another long descent after on Mineral Point Road. I tucked into aero and took advantage of the free speed and recovery time.

A few miles later we had the third of the original three hills. It was absolutely packed since everyone had to condense from three hills to one. I saw my parents and then Scott. As I passed him I was averaging around 18.9-19 and was way below the anticipated plan. I said I wasn’t having a very good day, which I meant speed-wise, not how I was feeling. He told me my average was among the fastest in my AG and I was doing great, which was such a relief to hear. I finished the climb feeling much more confident and figured we were all a little slower than planned. I zipped through Verona and got a nice boost from the crowds before starting the second loop.

I treated the second loop as one big segment and aimed to maintain my pace and stay on the power plan. The wind was steadily picking up and on the long rolling/false flat section into Mt. Horeb I was about 2mph slower than the previous loop at the same effort. I didn’t want to overdo it by trying to push harder against the wind so I let my power drop a bit. I knew the climbs would bring my normalized power up, but I’d have a bigger variance than we were hoping. I didn’t want a repeat of LP where my normalized power was dead on, but my average was way off and my legs were heavy and shot by mile 10 of the run, so I was a little more conservative while keeping up a strong effort.

The big climb was only on the first loops so the second loop was shorter. The wind was strongest heading back into Verona and was mostly crosswind and tailwind heading back into town so I pushed as much as I could to make up time with low power thanks to the net downhill.

As I approached the Helix my average speed was at 19mph, about .6mph slower than the Best Bike Split prediction. I finished in 5:52, which was three minutes slower than my LP ride. We would later discover that BBS had me at 5:51 on race day due to the change in the forecast. This is a great example of how easy it is to let the data get into your head and potentially ruin your race. I was feeling pretty down and felt like I was blowing my chance until Scott told me my bike was actually going well. It’s great to have estimates, but you have to remember that race day is unpredictable and a million things can change.

When I got off the bike and started running to T2 my legs were burning, but luckily it faded quickly as I ran to the changing area.

Time: 5:52:58


In and out, that was the goal. I never sit down, I just grab what I need and get everything situated on the run out – pulling on my race belt, getting my visor on and loading my pockets up with gels. This transition is much shorter as we only have to run the length in one direction.

Time: 2:27


I spotted my mom and dad right away along the first part of the run. My mom shouted out that only a couple of the women we were tracking were ahead of me, but I would find out in the coming miles that the tracker stopped reporting bike splits after mile 61 so we didn’t have much accurate data for the first part of the run. I was feeling really great and running well, and was hopeful I might already be in the top five and have a shot at making my way to the top two.

Scott was waiting around mile 1.5 for the first update and as I ran by, he told me I was in 7th, which was a little disappointing. The next stretch has a short out and back on a bike path and I saw one of my competitors was only about .4 miles ahead. My race plan was HR and pace based for the first 18 miles, aiming for 140-145 bpms and roughly 8:30s. My HR was spot on and my pace was a little faster in the 8:20s due to some downhill, but I didn’t want to risk speeding up for the pass only to blow up later so I kept her in my sights and stuck to the plan. The temperature was perfect and I was feeling pretty great. At times I lost sight of her, but didn’t let it worry me. I knew I’d see Scott around mile 5.5 for another update.

I tackled the first run up Observatory, the only steep hill on the course, and managed to keep my HR pretty controlled. Scott was just past the bottom and told me I was in 7th off the bike, but was now in 4th or 5th. We would later discover I came into T2 in 7th, but started the run in 5th, passing two women in transition. I knew at least one of the women was right in front of me so I figured I would at least be able to grab 4th or 5th place as the worst case outcome. I saw my parents right after near the State Street turnaround and the reiterated that I was definitely in the top five.

The next section has a longer out and back along Lake Mendota so it’s a great opportunity to see where your competition is. I spotted the woman right ahead of me and realized she was slowing down, only about .25 ahead at that point. But I had yet to see the others, which worried me a little. I continued on and the miles ticked away. I stayed focused on my pacing and nutrition, which was water at each aid station, sometimes a little Gatorade, 4 gels spaced out about 4-6 miles, and around mile 12 I had Coke at every aid station with an occasional gulp of Red Bull. I had stomach pain, which I also had in LP, but it was not enough to slow me down or keep me from getting my nutrition in.

As I neared mile 12 I saw the woman right ahead of me and as we went through the aid station, I passed her. She didn’t try to catch me and I didn’t speed up, I just continued my steady pace and hoped it would be enough. About a half mile later I saw Scott again and motioned behind me so he would see I had passed her and he gave me a big smile and said I was now in 3rd place! The woman in 1st was way ahead and 2nd was about 4 minutes ahead. I was so happy. It was a big gap, but I was steadily gaining ground and I still had half the race to go.

Shortly after, I finally saw the woman in 1st and she looked strong. I didn’t see 2nd, but Scott saw her and said she looked like she was suffering. I started to feel like there was a chance I’d be able to pull it off, but I still had 13.1 miles to go.

The next several miles were pure focus. The pain started getting more and more severe and fatigue was building, but I couldn’t afford to slow down. I couldn’t wait for mile 19 where I’d get another update. As I headed into the State Street turnaround, Scott said she was slowing down and I was maintaining. Then, just a few hundred yards later, I finally saw her for the first time and she was no more than .25 miles ahead of me. I got the biggest jolt of adrenaline and it took every bit of control to maintain my pace and not make a stupid move. As I made the turn toward the Lake Mendota path, Scott pointed just ahead and said she was right there, to go get her.

We passed through an aid station and as my Garmin beeped for mile 20, I made the pass. It was at once the most thrilling and most terrifying moment because I wasn’t sure how she would react. Almost everyone’s ages had come off their calves, but of course mine was still on so she would know we were competing against one another. I ran a mile or so before the first glance over my shoulder and I didn’t see her there. At the next turnaround, near mile 22, I was able to see how far back she was and I had gained about .4 miles on her. But I still didn’t consider it a certainty. I realized it was going to be the hardest four miles I’ve ever run in my life!

My HR was up to the 150s and I was in tremendous pain. My pace had slowed around 5-10 seconds per mile, but I gave it everything I had to speed up a little and keep putting more distance between her and I. I looked over my shoulder at every turn and while didn’t see her, I was so worried someone else would come out of nowhere and pass me in the final moments. I was overwhelmed by emotions and wanted to get to that finish line more than anything. I saw Scott at the usual spot one last time, just about a mile from the finish and he told me she was down by a lot and it was mine. I couldn’t believe it was really happening. But I had to stay focused because so many things can happen in an Ironman.

The race ends with a loop around Capitol Square where you can hear the finish line on the other side, but still have about .5 miles to go. When I reached that corner I looked over my shoulder one more time, and finally let the emotions take over. I had done it. I was in 2nd place in my age group, which meant I would qualify for Kona. I had the finish chute completely to myself and it was such an incredible moment. I crossed the finish line in 11 hours, 4 minutes and 20 seconds, a 42 minute course PR, and punched my ticket to Kona. I was 10th amateur female overall, I had the 3rd fastest bike split in my AG and 2nd fastest run.

Time: 3:47:32

Final Thoughts

I raced my first Ironman in 2009 on this same course and it took me 15 hours and 45 minutes to finish due to an injury right before the race. I did the same two races in 2010 that I did this summer, finishing LP in 13:31 and WI in 12:48. A few years later I came back to Wisconsin and did 11:46 and placed 10th. I was so excited. I did it again at Coeur d’Alene and while I still had a long way to go, I started thinking that I could do more. The Tahoe lottery spot to Kona was the push I needed. I knew it was going to be incredibly hard work and I knew there was a chance my best wouldn’t be good enough. But Jorge believed in my goals, he build the right plan to get me there, and I did the hard, consistent work needed whether I felt like it or not.

In the end, it all came together and I achieved a huge dream at my goal race, where all of this began for me 7 years ago, with my family and friends there to share it with me. To say I’m grateful is the biggest understatement. I didn’t sleep at all that night and as I sat at the awards and waited for my name to be called for the Kona slot allocation, I was still in disbelief.

If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough. I am proof you can set a goal that everyone might think is crazy, and if you work hard every day and don’t lose sight of it, you can achieve that goal. I can’t wait to set a new goal and see what happens next.

December 2, 2015

Ironman World Championship: Living My Dreams

Having an alarm go off in the 3am hour is generally unwelcome, except for race day. I miraculously slept pretty well, albeit not long enough. My race morning procedure is a simple science: start the coffee, jump in the shower, drink an Ensure, drink a coffee and eat an English muffin with almond butter. I got into my tri kit, woke up my parents and prepared to make my way to the start.

As we walked in the dark toward the pier, it felt surreal just to be there. I was nervous, but in a quiet sort of way, not the overwhelming urge to throw up or cry that I often feel on race morning. I still had a touch of fear about my hip and the unknown, but was ready to get started and enjoy the day.

Body marking at Kona is quite the process. As you enter the secure athlete area a volunteer sprays your arms with alcohol and wipes them down so the fancy body marking tattoos will stick. Like everything else at Kona, it's one volunteer to one athlete and they make you feel like you're the only one there. It's the best. Next you get to step on a scale and see how much carb loading you've done. Then it's off to the pier to make sure your tires didn't blow overnight and to get the bike ready. 

As I approached my row in transition, I saw my best friend Laura and her husband right at the end. They volunteered in transition to have a good view of the start and waited for me at my bike. A hug from a loved one was just what I needed to keep the nerves at bay.

I pumped my tires, loaded up my nutrition and prepared to kill a lot of time until the start. I ran into Jana so we braved the porta potty line together, then it was time to get into my swim skin and apply an entire stick of body glide. The pros started and I still had a long wait ahead. I listed to Titanium, my ritual pre-race song, before checking my bag and doing a short warm up swim. I finally couldn't avoid it any longer so I walked to the pier and got into the water. The nerves intensified and I knew in about 15 minutes I'd start the swim and not stop moving until later that night.

The start at Kona is unlike any other. The pier and seawall is lined with people, there are cameramen under the water and on the beach, and there is a news helicopter hovering above. I've never felt adrenaline like I did that morning. I'm not a great swimmer so I usually put myself about 1/3 of the way back from the front, but here I opted to wait on the beach until the last minute. I was literally the only age group woman not in the water and I enjoyed those final moments where I had the famous start all to myself. I saw no reason to tread water without a wetsuit for 10 minutes and was happy to save the energy. I decided to start all the way at the back since my goals were so conservative. In the final moments of treading and waiting I saw Carolyn right in front of me. We hugged, wished each other luck and the cannon went off. My Kona experience officially began.

The Swim

Starting at the back may not have been the best idea. I'm not a very fast swimmer, but I still found myself struggling to navigate around a lot of women, something I'm not very good at. This would go on throughout the entire swim. I didn't experience the hard contact others complained of, but definitely never had clear water either. The only important thing is that I felt comfortable and strong. I glanced at my watch at the turn buoy and my average was 1:37/100 yards - really great for me. But I also knew we had the current in our favor and I'd slow after the turn.

I didn't feel the current right away, but as we got closer to the pier it was really strong. I stayed on feet as much as I could and had a couple women I paced with the whole way. After the turn we also swam into the slower men so the course got really crowded. I glanced up and saw the big Gatorade blow up at the end of the pier and knew I was close to the finish. The time on my watch was 1:13. For a moment I thought I was going to have a pretty good swim time, but that last stretch seemed to take forever. At times it was like an endless pool so I just kept chugging along. I had no idea how much time had passed, but a glance at the watch as I exited the water showed 1:24 and change. Not good, not bad. Did I care? Absolutely not! A huge smile spread across my face and as I ran up the stairs to the pier I screamed out, "I'm doing Kona!" I was so overjoyed.

Transition was a slow crawl simply because I wasn't in a hurry. As I ran out to the bike, I realized my sunglasses had gotten caught in my sunscreen spray. A volunteer let me wipe them on her shirt and saved the day. The volunteers at Kona were angels. They were selfless, their energy was limitless and they were there to pick us up when we most needed it. It's not possible to thank them enough.

Time: 1:25:07
T1: 7:17

The Bike

Kona is all about the bike. You never know what Madame Pele will have in store for you: Headwind? Crosswind? Rain? Hail? Heat? The only thing for certain is that it will be uncertain. The first several miles are in town and my race plan called for these to be really easy. I saw my family as I headed out onto Kuakini Highway and I stuck to my plan, particularly the nutrition. Coach Jorge warned me I'd come out of the swim dehydrated since Kona is so hot and the water is so warm. I finished a full bottle of Skratch in the first 30 minutes and my second bottle in the next 30. Once out on the Queen K I relied on the aid stations for all of my liquids.

The first 30 miles were a breeze, quite literally. There was a great tailwind and not long into my ride, I had the thrill of seeing the top pros finishing their rides. It is hard to imagine they are THAT much faster, but they are. Jan Frodeno would be crossing the finish line before I even made it to T2!

I reached the end of the Queen K and made the left turn toward Hawi. So far, so good. I was so on top of my nutrition, averaging about 1.5 bottles of Gatorade and a bottle of water per. The heat was getting intense so I also soaked myself at every aid station to keep my body temperature down. I was riding well within my power guidelines, maybe even a little under due to the tailwind. At 40 or so miles in I was on track to make my predicted 6 hour split.

But that changed as I started the climb to Hawi. The climb itself isn't much of a climb, it's more a long steady grind. But the headwind picked up and out of nowhere, we had a huge downpour. This brought some relief from the heat, but made it so hard to see through soaking wet, fogged glasses. The climb felt like it took forever and parts of this section were a bit of a drag. The stunning ocean views to the left helped and knowing I was nearly halfway helped even more. By the time I reached the turnaround, I had fallen off my 6 hour pace and was on track for 6:15 or so. I thought the descent might help me catch up.

The descent was awesome. The infamous crosswinds that I was truly afraid of just weren't blowing that day, or at least at the time I was descending. I tucked into aero and enjoyed the free ride. As I neared the Queen K, I was feeling pretty good and thinking we had dodged a lot of bullets conditions-wise. It was really hot, but the wind really wasn't that bad. I'd soon find out I was wrong.

As I turned back onto the Queen K it was like hitting a brick wall. It was early afternoon and the vicious headwind had settled in. I had nearly 35 miles to go and knew every bit of it would be a fight. My legs were also hurting, something I don't usually experience on the bike, so I was a little worried that my injury and lack of training were starting to catch up with me. This final stretch sucked. There's no other way to put it. If my mind wandered to a negative place, I forced myself to get back to the moment and remember where I was: I was racing Kona. I was lucky. I had NOTHING to feel bad about, nothing to complain about. So I kept drinking the orange Gatorade I despised by that point, put my head down and pedaled through it.

The last stretch was also lonely at times. In general I'm not slow, but at Kona, I'm slow. I was out there alone a lot and the people I passed looked far more miserable than I. Little groups of people out cheering by the resorts offered a nice boost and then I finally saw the airport and knew I was getting close. Shortly after I passed the Energy Lab where lots of people were already well into the marathon. My spirits lifted tremendously, I was just miles from T2 and definitely ready to get off the bike.

Time: 6:38:49
T2: 8:21... could have had a nap and massage with that time!

The Run

The run is usually my strength in an Ironman. I did 3:49 and 3:52 at my last two races and was aiming to do 3:45 or faster this season before my hip fracture. Until just weeks before Kona, we weren't sure I'd be running at all so I was mentally prepared to walk the entire course if I had to. But my recovery and limited training progressed nicely in the final weeks so Jorge had a very conservative plan for me to jog easy and walk all aid stations and big hills. As I ran out of T2 and headed up Palani I saw my mom and dad and stopped for the sweatiest hugs I've ever given at an Ironman. It meant the world to me to have them there sharing the day with me. Just past them were Chris and Laura so more sweaty hugs were had, some photos and videos were captured and I started the run.

The first several miles are in town and mostly on Ali'i Drive. Of course I felt great in the beginning so I was running a bit faster than planned and ran up the first couple hills. I had to remind myself I not only had a really long road ahead of me, but that I still didn't know how my body would respond in the later miles given I didn't do any long training runs. So I walked the next few hills and enjoyed the spectators that line this part of the course.

It's difficult to put how I was feeling into words. I was truly filled with joy and was so grateful to be racing. I didn't care if it took me all night to make it to the finish, I just wanted to make it. Having that positive mindset carried me through the miles and pain, and not once during the run did I wish for it to be over, even when it got really difficult. And it was definitely going to get difficult.

Those first 10 miles literally flew by and before I knew it I was walking up the really steep hill on Palani headed for the Queen K. That hill felt like it went on forever and I was more than happy to be walking! At the top I saw Jorge for the first time all day and just seconds later saw Jana coming in for the finish with a mile to go. I cheered for her, then had a quick chat with Jorge to let him know how I was. I still had 16 miles to go, but I felt great. I was hopeful. And I don't think I stopped smiling much at all the entire time.

Tons of fast people were nearing the end of their marathon, but many of them were really hurting. I saw several people vomit and more people walking than usual. The heat was taking a toll and I think a lot of people were struggling with nutrition. I had fueled and hydrated really well on the bike and was feeling the benefit. I did the entire marathon on Gatorade, water, Coke, Red Bull and one gel in the earlier miles. The heat was brutal, but I kept drinking and kept dumping water on myself and putting ice down my top and pants whenever I could.

Around mile 14 I saw a friend of a friend and he snapped this photo of me. I hadn't covered 14 miles in training and was still feeling good. 

The sun was just starting to set and it was beautiful. I knew it was going to get really dark really fast and it would make the rest of the run that much harder, but I was running, I wasn't in terrible pain and every step was getting me closer to the finish line.

Once darkness fell I was desperate to get to the Energy Lab. Even though this section is notorious for being brutal, I was so sensory deprived in the dark and needed a little boost. The aid station at the entrance to the Energy Lab was awesome. They were blasting music, had a stage set up and were dancing. My legs felt like they had been run over repeatedly like a truck - remember, this was my FIRST long run since spring - but I couldn't help but dance my way through the aid station. It was just what I needed. I strapped a glow stick around my neck and headed back into the darkness.

All in all, the Energy Lab wasn't as bad as I expected. It's a difficult point in the race as it's roughly miles 16-20 where a lot can go wrong both mentally and physically. Endurance athletes not only need a hefty pain tolerance, but also the ability to keep your head in the right place when things get tough. All Ironmans hurt. Sometimes it hurts so much you wonder how you're able to keep going, but somehow you do. This Ironman hurt a little more so the pain was pretty intense by this point, but it was mostly because my legs lacked resilience since I couldn't do long runs in training. My injured hip was fine, it was ironically the only thing that didn't hurt! But tolerating pain is one of my biggest strengths so I pushed on. I had stopped taking walk breaks and slowed to an 11-12 minute pace jog instead because I realized it didn't hurt any less to walk.

When you leave the Energy Lab, there's a false sense that you're in the home stretch, yet there are still six miles ahead. For some reason I felt like I was always running up a slight hill at Kona. I was anticipating the return to town to be easier than it was, but it was a struggle. It was pitch black, most of the time there was no one else around, and time was passing so slowly. I used this time to reflect on the day and think about what was waiting for me just a little more than an hour away. I could do anything for an hour, I'd already come so far.

There were still people out cheering here and there and the aid stations were still full of energy. It wasn't that late, maybe 7 or 7:30pm, but at Kona, it's late enough that most athletes had finished, had a meal and were celebrating with family and friends. As I turned the corner on Palani, my celebration was just moments away and I felt overcome with emotion. There was still roughly a mile left but it was literally downhill and I could hear the famous finish line just a few blocks away. My mind was racing and I forced myself to be 100% in the moment. I didn't want to fly through the finish and not remember it so I made a deliberate effort to look around, listen, celebrate with the spectators and love every single moment of my final trip down Alii Drive. There I was, the most unlikely athlete to even be doing Ironman, finishing the most spectacular race in the world. It really was like a dream. I heard my parents screaming for me, but didn't actually see them. As I got close to the end I turned around and ran a few steps backward so I could see the entire finish chute. I will never, ever forget it. As happy as I was to be crossing that line, a part of me never wanted it to end. 

I crossed the finish line nearly two hours slower than my best race, but nearly two hours better than I was anticipating. My run was exactly one hour slower than usual, but for the first time in a long time, time meant nothing. I had a dream day at Kona and enjoyed every challenging minute. I wouldn't change anything about the experience. I can only hope to earn my way back and have another shot at this magical course. There is truly nothing like it in the world.

Time: 4:50:29

Finish Time: 13:10:03

This video says it all: the joy, emotion, accomplishment and gratitude.

October 22, 2015

Race Week in Kona

There is nothing quite like the days leading up to an Ironman when an entire town is filled with energy, the Ironman Village is the center of action, and excitement (and nerves) for the race build more and more each day. Race week in Kona is like this on steroids. Almost everyone is in town a full week or more before, the Ironman store and Village open several days in advance, and the hottest triathletes in the world are training, milling around town, eating at Lava Java and swimming at the pier: Every. Single. Day. It's like Ironman crack for those who love the sport and for a brief time, you get to live in a dream world where you share this magnificent venue with the top pros in the world.

Pinch me, this is really happening

Found my name!

I arrived in Kona late Saturday night, October 3. I would have one week to acclimate to the 6 hour time change and attempt to adjust to the 90+ degree heat that often felt like 100-105. Oh, and the 38mph wind? No problem. My coach, Jorge Martinez from E3 Training Solutions, was conveniently in the condos next door and there to guide me through the days leading up to the race. What wasn't so convenient is that he had me out training in the hottest hours of the day on various parts of the course so I would be as prepared as possible for the big day. I cursed him as I did my final long run, 8.5 unbelievably hot miles on a 105 degree day. But as race day approached, I knew everything we did that week would get me that much closer to the finish line.

My first order of business was to swim at the Pier. I arrived feeling jet lagged, dehydrated and more than a bit out of it, but the crazy scene immediately snapped me into Ironman mode. My first swim was in really choppy water so all the subsequent swims (I swam daily leading up to the race) would feel that much easier. Some swims were serious and some were more for fun, including a couple coffee boat swims and some underwater goofing with good friends who came in from Chicago for the race.

Gotta love a GoPro

The famous Kona coffee boat... which was out of coffee

As the week went on, I previewed almost the entire course and had a good sense of what I was in for. Jorge took me through a detailed race plan, but ultimately my only goal at Kona was to have the time of my life. Being smart about the approach, the course, the conditions and my nutrition was critical for getting me through the race with my minimal training, but also for making sure I could enjoy the day. I felt ready.

I traveled to Kona alone, but was not alone for a single moment. I had friends already there, like Jorge and one of his other athletes, the amazing Jana (aka Czech Chick); a fellow Tahoe refugee, Carolyn; and Roni, a new friend I made on the long flight from NYC to Kona. I spent time with them every day, whether planned or by chance, and kept meeting new people everywhere. The spirit of camaraderie is stronger than ever at Kona and everyone I encountered was incredibly positive and friendly. Later in the week my amazing support crew arrived, including my mom and dad who made the long trip from Wisconsin to share the day with me, and my best friend and her husband from Chicago, who I can't seem to race an Ironman without. More friends arrived from Austin to volunteer, and suddenly we had this big group, which just added to the overall experience. I also felt so supported from afar, I literally couldn't have asked for anything more. My heart has never felt fuller than it did in the days leading up to the race and for a brief time, I was able to forget I had an injury and the thought of not finishing wasn't even an option. Ironman is a largely solo endeavor, but you never do it alone. The people who love you and support you are the most powerful source of fuel when it gets really difficult. I had more than enough to get me through 140.6 miles.

The official race events started on Thursday with the famous Underpants Run in the morning and the welcome banquet in the evening. I had a great time at both, joining Carolyn for the UPR and Jorge and Jana for the banquet. I even managed to reverse photo bomb the great Mark Allen.

Friday is when it became all business with the packing of the gear and mandatory bike and gear check in. This is usually a pretty nondescript task, but not at Kona. There was red carpet style set up and a small number of athletes allowed to go at one time. As you walked down the chute with your bike, industry professionals lined the barrier with clip boards capturing every detail about our bikes: who made the frame, what wheels we were riding, what type of power meter, hydration systems, etc. I was stopped by Enve to be photographed and given a t-shirt since my bike is maxed out in Enve. Powertap gave me a swag bag for using their power meter. People were asking what swim skin I'd be wearing. It was awesome. Each year I read the articles about what was seen at Kona, and to be part of the source was amazing.

After check in I had a quiet dinner with my parents and got into bed as early as possible to study my race plan one more time. Something I didn't mention earlier is that I caught a cold Monday evening and had been pretty sick throughout the week. By Friday night I was definitely feeling better, but also on the cusp of having it move into my chest. I got to bed as early as one can before an Ironman and hoped for the best. I knew in just a matter of hours my alarm would go off and I'd be starting a day I had dreamed about for years.

October 20, 2015

The Kona Dream

Everyone who does Ironmans dreams of getting a chance to compete at Kona. And for most people it's just that: a dream. Kona was the race that inspired me to learn to swim and get into the sport. I jumped straight into the Ironman distance and never looked back. While I've done well over the years, progressing from a roughly 13.5 hour time to a best of 11:17 and two top 10 finishes, I've never made the podium and still have a lot of work to do to land a coveted Kona qualification. However, as fate would have it, my journey to Kona started a little over a year ago when I toed the line at Ironman Lake Tahoe, a race I was uniquely trained for and had a super secret goal of getting a KQ at, and the race was canceled at the last minute due to a massive forest fire. The 50 qualifying spots were randomly given to those of us who showed up, checked in and intended to race, and as luck would have it, I was one of the 50. I had nearly a year to prepare for my Kona experience and I decided to also make a real effort to qualify for 2016 at Ironman Wisconsin just 4 weeks before Kona.

My 2015 season also included the Boston Marathon so I felt like I was living a dream. Training was tough over the winter, but Boston went well (I hit another qualifying time) and I went on to do the Big Sur Marathon just 6 days later. I loved the experience and felt I came out unscathed, but ultimately, I was wrong. Nagging pelvic pain had come and gone throughout the winter, and as Ironman Wisconsin training ramped up, I developed acute pain in my hip. It first happened on June 21 and my last run would be June 29. On July 1 I was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the lesser trochanter and told my season was over. It was a little more than 2 months before IMWI and 3 months before Kona and a stress fracture of this nature usually requires 8-12 weeks for full healing. It also required 3 completely sedentary weeks, 4 weeks on crutches and another few weeks of very light and easy indoor cycling and minimal swimming. Overall, I was down about 6 weeks before easing back in ever so carefully with a goal of just making it to Kona and crossing that finish line.

About 7 weeks before Kona I was cleared to start some weight bearing activity, primarily walking and elliptical. I then progressed to running on an Alter G negative gravity treadmill and about 5 weeks pre-race, I did my first outdoor run/walk of 4' running with 1' walking for 30 minutes total. I never did an outdoor run/walk of more than 9.5 miles and my longest on the Alter G was 13.1 at 70% body weight. But I was able to cycle a lot, so I put as much effort into that training as I could and when I was finally able to swim normally again, I worked hard there as well. It wasn't until about 3 weeks before the race that I was starting to feel like a finish would happen.

I haven't posted here in 2 years and don't really intend to continue posting, largely because it's easier and more interactive to share what you're doing in the sport via sites like Strava, Twitter or Instagram, but I really wanted to capture and share my Kona experience. Partly because I never want to forget a moment of it from the battle to make it to the start, to the incredible journey to the finish, and partly to share that dreams really do come true even for those of us who aren't naturally at the front of the pack. Next up, my race week experience and Kona report.


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