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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