Kona is the race that every long course athlete dreams of. The Kona Ironman brings out the top performances of all its competitors because they are primed for this particular event – the world championships. No matter how you qualify every athlete has the same goal – to cross that famous finish line on Ali’i Drive and to hear the voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly, call you an Ironman.
The race theme this year was Kupa’a, a Hawaiian word that means to be steadfast, unwavering, to be loyal to yourself and your surroundings. This theme resonated with me throughout the race.
The day of the race I woke up from a good night of sleep at 3:45am. I ate my typical large race day breakfast, I eat the same thing before a race this way I know that my body will digest the food and I eat something that will slowly release into my system and throughout the morning to give me the energy I need to complete the race. The house I was staying in was filled with the best support team anyone could ask for. My husband and family, from Canada & Michigan, had all come to cheer me on in the race. I am blessed to have such wonderful people in my life.
At 4:30am, we left the cottage on Ali’i drive with my pre swim bag as well as my bike and run bags. A 20 minute to walk to the King Kamehameha hotel I realized that this is no longer a dream. Body marking and athlete check-in started at 5:45 am. I thought I would be early, however, every other athlete had the same idea and I was greeted by a long line. At that point, I said good-bye to my family and entered into the athlete’s only section.
Every athlete is funnelled into lines to a strict security clearance to ensure race safety. Athletes can only bring clear bags through. Next, we were routed to pick up our temporary tattoos with our race number and to a station where volunteers applied our numbers. Finally, over to the back of the pier to drop off our bike and run bags that would be available on course and complete one last bike verification. By the time I was finished going through this line up it was 6:30am and I was feeling waves of nausea. I sat on the grass near the pre swim bag drop of and tried to breathe some fresh air and away from all of the congestion.
By 6:50am, I was feeling better and the AG men were about to start so I took some nutrition per my race plan. I started my way over to the swim entrance on the pier. While standing there, a few men missed their start time and they were running through the crowd of AG women.
Going into any race it is important you have a ton of confidence in your preparation before the race and your ability to execute your race plan. Nigel, my coach from NRGPT, did an excellent job of this all year providing me with a detailed customized training plan and I received continual feedback throughout my training. Fortunately, he was at Kona coaching me through every step of this new experience. Over the past few years Nigel has helped me reach and exceed my goals.
Male professional athletes got a 45 minute head start while the female professional athletes got a 40 minute head start over the female age groupers.
Immediately after the cannon went off for the AG men, women age groupers jumped in the water to swim to the ROKA buoy start line. I decided to wait a few minutes so that I didn't have to tread water as long and conserve as much energy as possible. I waited 5 minutes then hopped in the water and slowly swam to the start. I went to the left of the pack and straight to the front. I was really excited for this all women swim start. The anticipation for this race built! Three helicopters were thundering above us, crowds were cheering, and the Hawaiian drums produced the most dramatic start to a race that I have ever experienced. I positioned myself three athletes from the left, treading water waiting for the cannon to go off. It seemed like an eternity. As I waited the volunteer paddlers that were there to keep us in line and behind the start line were pushing me back, simultaneously I was being pushed by the girls behind me. Everyone was eager and ready to go. The cannon fired.
This by far was the most aggressive swim that I had ever experienced. I noticed that I kept on getting kicked out of the swim draft and swimming on my own. It was difficult to stay in others draft zone because there were so many other athletes at my swim speed where normally I would have been closer to the front with less congestion. The swim going out felt like a normal speed but then after the turn around point it seemed like it was slower coming back. At this point in time the swim began to get even more congested since I had caught up with some of the slower male athletes that started earlier. As soon as I swam into the pier area it was completely congested with athletes swimming in the wrong direction and no way to get around the athletes. I witnessed one athlete swim perfectly horizontal over another athlete.
Swim time: 1:12:09
In transition I grabbed my bag from the rack and entered the women's change tent. It was packed so I called over a volunteer and stood in the corner to change. I ran out of the tent feeling good. Grabbed my bike and ran to the mounting area. All athletes are required to run a full loop of the transition area so the distance is equal for all athletes.
T1 time: 0:06:05
On the bike I executed my plan and kept my coaches guidance in mind. Per my plan I was to go easy in the hot zone (Palani, Makini and Kuakini area) and then hit my watts when I get to the Queen K. The hot zone has some pretty steep and shorter hills and was lined with spectators. When I came down Palani, I had to break because there was an accident at the bottom of the hill and spectators were helping up a lady and moving her bike out of the road (on a happy side note, my family told me that they later saw the lady cross the finish line). Officials were already yelling to slow down on the course so I cautiously slowed down and again reminded myself the plan to "go easy" for the first bit.
As I arrived to the Queen Ka’ahumanu or Queen K for short, I struggled to hit my numbers. I kept myself relaxed and told myself that “my legs just needed a chance to come around.” Keeping relaxed and aero I spinned into the wind. After about 40 minutes, I tried to pick up my power but with no luck. My legs wouldn’t generate any more power than my current output! At this point in time I thought that I would keep this comfortable pace until the turn around point in Hawi and then try again. I could hear my coach and teammates advice I had received about the Kona course. I should remain calm, patient and respect the environment. The Queen K is hot from the sun’s rays being absorbed by the road and even more so by the black lava fields which go on for miles and miles. Inspirational messages were placed on the lava field to provide additional motivation for athletes.
During the bike there was a constant head wind. I never felt hot during any of the ride. I saw athletes dumping water on themselves to cool down so on most water stops I followed suit. After the turn-around at Hawi, I got to bike bag pickup and swapped my water bottles out. I did a great job fueling. I drank all three bottles of my custom blend drink I brought with me and had extra cold water on the course. I was ready to get back to my plan. I started to cycle away and notice that the wind had changed directions and that I was cycling back into a head wind! I remained positive and figured that this was OK since I didn't have to deal with the nasty gusting cross winds and instead I had a steady wind to deal with. I also wasn’t too concerned since these conditions felt similar to the training rides that I experience back home. Trying to increase my power again seemed impossible. Was I flat? Did I peak to early? This easy power that I could achieve with no problem now seemed impossible. Again rethinking back to all the advice I received from my mentors I decided to enjoy the ride and soak in all of the islands beauty.
It might be worth noting, that I noticed my nutrition was warmer than expected and would have been easier to consume if I would have frozen it before hand. I would consider trying this in a future Ironman that is held in warm climate.
On the way back to the transition I stopped for ice, (the course ran out of water) and just focused on keeping my ride nice and easy. At this point in time I thought my goal here is to have a great run. I was really fit and strong coming into this race so I definitely felt that was doable.
Bike time: 06:51:02
On the bike, I had taken all of the nutrition I brought with me, 6 and a half hours worth, I thought this was conservative and I would have extra so I knew I needed to have a gel in transition. I didn't have a gel on the bike because there was no water available at the aid stops. I got off my bike to give to the bike handler I struggled to walk straight. The handler didn't know if he should hold my bike or me. The weird thing is that I felt fine just a little wobbly. There was not one time in race that I felt over exerted. I head to transition and as soon as I sat in the transition chair I felt so hot. I suddenly realized that my core temperature was higher than my perceived body temperature.
The volunteer helped me with my transition bag and gave me a hand towel that was soaked in ice water. It felt so good that I asked if I could run with it. I decided to ease into the jog. Running is my favourite event so I was really excited to be finished the bike portion of the race. I noticed that transition change tent was fairly empty with only a couple of athletes transitioning. This was a much different experience than when I was in the tent after the swim.
T2 time: 0:06:04
I started the run course still feeling over heated and felt that I was not digesting 100%. Troubleshooting the issue I figured this was due to overheating more than anticipated so I increased my fluid intake. The hot zone at the beginning of the race was still busy. I had met Julie Moss – famed American Triathlete, a few days earlier and she was there cheering all the athletes. She noticed me and gave me a personalized shout out. In Kona, I had met so many athletes from all over the world. Everyone had their own individual story. Everyone was so supportive of one another. By race day, it felt like we were one big family.
As I hit the 21km I started to feel better and was finally running stronger. I entered the energy lab at sunset. The Energy Lab entrance was lively there was lots of music and the road is a slight downhill that leads to the water. The view was beautiful, it was a perfect colourful sunset with palm tree silhouettes in the distance. Running through a lava field towards the water into the sunset was one of the most breath taking views I have ever encountered running. My run needs bag was in the Energy Lab. Unfortunately, the volunteers didn't know what to do so I had to find my bag myself. I decided to carry the nutrition I had packed, just in case. The run course head back up the Energy Lab and back onto the Queen K. The music was loud & upbeat and gave me an energy boost! I grabbed my water from Pete Reid, a former Canadian professional triathlete who has won ten Ironman triathlons including Kona three times, and instantly gained even more energy to run to the finish.
Feeling better at this point, I decided to enjoy every minute of the run course. The course was getting quite dark it was difficult to see the orange pylons but you could see that some of the finishers came back to cheer us on with their headlamps and bikes, they provide great energy and encouragement. As I got closer to the run down the famous finishers shoot the crowd grew greater and cheering loud. I could hear the music and Mike Reilly's voice calling in the athletes just a head of me. I saw my coach, he gave me my finally words of encouragement. Then I finally saw the famous finishers shoot that I have seen on television for years. The lights were bright, music loud, tons of spectator all banging on the finishers shoot fence. Under a Canadian flag in the chute I saw my family and biggest supporters cheering me on, without their support this dream would not have been fulfilled. The Ironman finish line is the goal but being there with loved ones made the experience even more incredible. I crossed the line at 12:51:42. Mike Reilly called my name and called me an Ironman. The Kona course is challenging and I am so grateful that I had this experience!