Oh, yeah, Kona. Should probably write a little something about that one, eh?
The race happened over two weeks ago and I’m just now sitting down to write about it. I’m a master procrastinator! But I got a bit overwhelmed with vacation and then work and wine and…. well, I’ll talk more about it later.
I’ve been back to work for a bit over a week now, and I’ve been faced several times with the terribly open-ended question: “well, how was it?” I tried a lot of answers: Good, but not perfect. Amazing, such a privilege just be there. It was hard, but beautiful and inspiring. Decent. But what I’ve settled on, and I think is the right answer: it was an amazing experience. That’s what it was. An experience. Not a perfect one, not a horrible one — somewhere in the middle. Just….an experience that I’m not likely to forget.
Here’s the story:
I woke up race morning feeling excited, ready, and nowhere near as nervous as I’ve felt before other Ironmans. On the night before the race, I wrote here that I’d pretty much thrown out all of my place and time goals, knowing that the conditions in Hawaii make all the difference and that I was racing in an extremely competitive age group. What I wrote was true. But, I’d maintained some more process-oriented goals in my mind. I wanted to handle the day with grace and composure. I wanted to make good decisions, be smart, and enjoy the day as much as I could. I wanted to run well, for the whole marathon, something I’ve yet to do. If conditions cooperated, I would have been thrilled with a personal record for the distance, and given my training, I didn’t think that was too lofty a goal, at all. But taking the ambitious time and place goals I’d once had off the table truly decreased the pressure I felt.
I arrived down at transition not long after it opened, a bit before 5 AM, and then hopped into line. It was quite the ordeal in transition — I was tattoo’d, weighed, I pumped up my tires, loaded my bike up with nutrition, checked my tires, turned on my bike computer, checked my tires again, adjusted my bike shoes, triple checked my tires, and then got the heck out of there, meeting my parents inside the King K hotel. There, I sat in a hallway, listening to music and trying to stay calm. In a great turn of events, I looked up at one point and saw Jennifer Harrison sitting nearby. Jennifer’s been a great role model and very supportive of me over the past couple years as I’ve tried to figure this triathlon thing out. Jennifer kindly took me under her wing, allowed me to tag along with her to the swim start, offered up advice and, just through her calm and relaxed demeanor, helping me to stay loose in those last tense minutes before the race. Having her there made the start of the day so much better.
|Pre-Race with Jen|
|View of the Swim Course from transition|
|Stoked with the time and loving my new ROKA speedsuit (and wetsuit)|
|Non-aero, pulling a train|
As they had in transition, my legs felt fantastic in the first stretch of the run, and once my Garmin had latched on to satellites, I realized quickly that, easy perceived effort aside, I was clipping along a little too quickly, so I ratcheted down the effort. The first ten miles, an out-and-back along Ali’i, are beautiful, packed with spectators, and easy to overdo. I really, really tried to keep it easy and I soaked in the experience, waving at my family and friends when I saw them, smiling a lot, high-fiving little kids.
|This made me laugh at Mile 2.5|
My new strategy for this race was to take a 10 to 20 second walk break at every aid station, starting with the first. I’d done research into this strategy, talked to others who had used it, and tested it in training, finding that the short breaks did not hurt my overall speed and made taking down the substantial amount of water I needed a lot easier (I sweat like a freakin’ pig). This worked great that first ten miles—I was being a great gatherer at those aid stations, getting water, more water, ice, more ice. I wasn’t feeling hot, but knew it would hit me eventually, so I just kept trying to keep the core cool.
|Still feeling great on Ali’i|
Those first 10 miles or so really flew by and I was on a high, feeling the magic of Kona and getting more and more happy that I was having a good day. Then came Mount Palani (not officially a mountain, but it might as well be). The hill is steep and long enough that lots of people walk up it, not out of necessity but instead in the interest of not getting the heart rate up too high. Making the turn to start up the climb, I still wasn’t sure what tactic I was going to take. But then I saw Liz cheering on the side of the road, and the last thing I was going to do was have my coach see me walking up the damn hill, so the decision was made and I trudged on up, smiling a little even though that hill is nothing to smile about.
Running up a mountain notwithstanding, I still was feeling quite good for the first few miles out on the Queen K Highway, dealing with just two small issues—really sore feet (I wore new-ish shoes, rookie move, that ended up being a size too small, and had some pretty nasty blood blisters forming underneath my big toenails on both feet), and (long story that involves a big blonde moment) no salt.
Looking back, it’s a bit hard to pinpoint when, exactly, things went sour. It’s all a bit blurry and hard to remember (and it’s not my procrastination making it so, an hour after the race I could not really describe what happened in the last 1.5 hours). I know I hit halfway on pace for a marathon in the low to mid 3:30s, which was a very reasonable pace given my training and other races this year, and I felt fantastic. The second half of the run was almost 20 minutes slower. Ooof. Somewhere, something went very wrong. What, I’m not sure. I know my pace started slipping at mile 14, when I turned my Garmin off because I didn’t like what it was showing me. I know I struggled on the way down into the Energy Lab, walked a bit, and observed that my stomach was sloshy. I remember taking a lengthy break at Special Needs at Mile 18, downing a 5-hour Energy, Maalox, a Gas-X — basically everything I packed – but I was not able to find extra salt in my bag. I know I packed it, but I just couldn’t find it. I know I was moaning a lot at that point, so much that the volunteers offered to call the medic (I declined).
|Energy Lab OUCH|
I know I had good stretches, still — I remember feeling quite good climbing out of the Energy Lab and feeling like I’d “saved” my day, a sentiment that didn’t last. I remember being extremely, extremely hungry, fantasizing about pizza. But mostly, I remember getting slower and slower and slower, walking more and more and more, and not caring even a lick. It’s an apathy that is very strange for me—I’ve melted down in races and in workouts plenty of times, but my physical meltdowns have always been dwarfed by the mental beating I was giving myself for not being able to hold it together. During other meltdowns, I’ve been dramatic….I’ve yelled at myself, I’ve cried, I’ve stepped over to the side of the road and stopped. Kona was different. Physically, I just couldn’t go anymore. I’m not sure why. I have my theories. No matter the reason, it was the biggest race of my life to date, and I was just watching it slip away and not reacting, not sad, not pissed, not fighting….just nothing. It sounds melodramatic to call it an out-of-body experience, but it almost was. And not in a good way.
I struggled my way through those last several miles. I wish I could say once I hit that last mile I was able to pull it together and run it in, that my heart took over, but that’d be a lie. I still walked a good chunk of that last mile. I remember one lady spectating, a complete stranger, standing by herself on the side of road. She looked at me walking in that last half mile, and said, sounding truly disappointed, “Walking? Here? In the homestretch?” I looked at her, shrugged, said, “I know, right?” and kept on walking. That’s the one spectator comment I really remember because her apparent disappointment in me echoed my own. I wanted to be a fighter but I just had nothing left.
Once I hit Ali’i, I did run it in….no way was I walking on Ali’i. I want to say the crowd pushed me in, that I got the chills from the greatest finish line in all of triathlon, all that stuff, but to be honest, I just wanted to be done and I hardly noticed any cheering or noise. It was “eyes on the finish line,” all the way in, I’m not sure I even smiled as I crossed the line, and then I just tried not to let my legs collapse under me as my “catcher” supported my weight and chatted with me for the next several minutes until he was sufficiently convinced that I was OK on my own.
|Please, please, make it end|
I crossed at 10 hours and 16 minutes…a personal record by almost a half-hour and faster than my best-case scenario for the day. Yes, it was a really fast day for a lot of people, but when I finished, I was content. How can you not be happy with a big personal record like that? I hung out in the finishers’ area for a while, finding my friend Todd and commiserating about how both of us had great days until the run, gorging (seriously, gorging!) on pizza and ice cream, assessing the damage (substantial) to my feet, and then hobbled on out towards the King K hotel to find my family and friends. There were a lot of smiles, a lot of hugs, much celebration that night….it was a good day. I acknowledged that I’d melted down a bit in that last 10 miles, but at the time, I kept saying, “it was all physical. I can’t be mad at myself. I just have to figure out what, nutrition or what, went wrong. I’ll fix it.”
|So thrilled to have my family there|
But on the flip-side, I’ve been a little disappointed because I know I could have done better and I’ve been at a bit of a loss trying to figure out what went wrong. I’m now 0-for-3 when it comes to Ironman runs, and for whatever reason — maybe it’s because running is my first love– when the run doesn’t go well, I take it a little harder. I wish I could have fought harder—the apathy I experienced in the last 10 miles, while I’m starting to see through reading and advice I’ve received, might have been just as much a true, physical symptom of something that wasn’t quite right, felt a little like just giving up or not caring….and that’s never been my style and it’s not OK.
There are so many people to thank here. Thanks to my family, for being there every step of the way and including on race day….that meant so much. The friends—in Naperville, Chicago, in California and Washington and other states and even abroad, some of whom were there with me in Hawaii—you’ve been so patient and supportive every step of the way. My law firm – for, first of all, taking me back in after I left to travel the world; second, affording me great flexibility and giving me a day off a week to go ride my bike through the cornfields; third, for so many supportive words before and after this event. Thanks to Gina Pongetti, part physical therapist, part regular therapist, who has kept me moving and injury-free and happy all summer…I drive all the way out to flippin’ Burr Ridge to see this girl and she’s so worth it. To Heather Fink, for the nutrition counseling. And thanks to TriSports.com, the bestest triathlon store in all the biz—so proud to be able to represent!
Last but not least, thanks to Lizfor everything—I’m so glad you were there in Kona to share the experience. I’ve yammered on a lot on this blog about how great Liz is and how she has been absolutely key in helping me make huge leaps forward as an athlete and person, so I won’t repeat myself too much. But just in case there was any doubt as to how special she is, I present this video (turn up your volume):
Yes, my coach donned a banana costume, re-created the “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” song in the middle of a Target, and sent me the video in an attempt to keep me calm during my pre-Kona taper. It really doesn’t get much better than that.
Mahalo, and thanks for reading!