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Ironman Kona, the long awaited race report

Now that I have finally settled back into the swing of things, and am finally caught up at work after being gone for nearly two weeks in the beautiful state of Hawaii, I’m ready to close this chapter. I suppose I have subconsciously been putting off this blog, not because I’m too busy, but because writing this down seems to complete the process for me, and that wasn’t something I was ready to do for a while. Let me first begin by saying how grateful I really am to have qualified to compete in this race. I was extremely humbled and honored to have the opportunity to represent myself in one of the undoubtedly most difficult races in the world with top athletes from so many places. To have made it this far was without a doubt, a dream come true; something I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the opportunity to do.

That being said, it sure seems like just being a part of the Kona experience would be enough to ride on the shirttails of adrenaline for a bit. This was a triathlete’s dream come true. Surely, this would be enough to satisfy my athletic reveries and fulfill all my goals for many, many years. I tried very hard to go into this race with this mentality. But for those of you who know me well also know that “just finishing,” and “just enjoying the experience” is something I could never actually do.

I qualified for this race last September, and had about 54 weeks to train, and think about this iconic day. As we boarded the plane to head to Hawaii, I couldn’t believe it was finally here. My training leading up to this race was the best it had ever been. I felt strong with my swim, 2.4 miles would be a piece of cake. My bike training had been faster than it had ever been, and my run training was significantly faster than my previous two ironman training cycles. Heading into my third ironman, I felt like I was finally getting the hang of this whole thing. I was coming off a big PR in the Olympic distance triathlon just a few weeks earlier, and really believed I was in the best shape of my life.

It seems like just when you think you’ve got things figured out, God throws you a bit of a curve ball. That’s a good thing, life should be full of surprises. I was undoubtedly in the best shape of my life. Yet, on race day I struggled like I’ve never struggled before to make it through. My struggles started very early on. We entered the water to start the swim a few minutes after then men had taken off. I was most excited about the swim. The water was clear, and beautiful. In my practice swims, I couldn’t help but smile at the beauty of the hundreds of fish swimming beneath. Just breathtaking. There were approximately 800 female competitors, and I didn’t have to worry much about being kicked, punched or swam over. The water was a bit choppy, but I had already practiced in the waves a few times earlier in the week, and was feeling fine about these conditions. The swim was a clockwise U. I felt great on my way out, and as I rounded the last buoy to head back towards the beach, I started feeling a bit woozy. I get motion sickness pretty easily in a car, and although the waves were not too crazy big, I began feeling some motion sickness coming on. I tried to pick up my speed in hopes of getting onto the land a bit quicker. I puked about 100 yards from the shore, and tried to convince myself that things would get better once I got on land. Relieved to be on my feet, I jogged through transition and mounted my bike. The first 20 miles or so, I tried to shake the queasy feeling in my stomach from the motion sickness. I managed to suck down one bottle of Heed, and one pack of Shot blocks. It was sunny, hot and humid. Around 88 degrees.

The wind was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. After the first 20 miles, we were hit with a ferocious head wind. I pushed through, hopeful that once I reached the turnaround, I’d have a nice tailwind to coast on in the second half of the bike.

I’m not sure what was happening with my body. I couldn’t keep any food down, and was struggling to force as many liquids in as I could. It just wasn’t going down. My background in sports nutrition and exercise physiology can sometimes be a curse. I knew exactly how much I should be consuming, and I also knew I would be in very big trouble from a physiological standpoint if I couldn’t get some calories in. I made it to the turnaround on the bike, really looking forward to a nice little tailwind to coast me down the only major climb in the race.

But somehow, the wind doesn’t work that way in Hawaii. I coasted down the hill holding on for dear life, as gusts of cross wind threatened my balance, bike handling skills, and confidence. Back onto the flats, I somehow still had a headwind. I couldn’t figure it out! This wind was pure evil! Feeling completely defeated around mile 80, I didn’t know if I could finish. I had probably only taken in a few hundred calories, and was falling desperately behind my time goal. At mile 100, I stopped and got off my bike. I was at the last aid station. I wanted to quit. I negotiated with myself that I just needed to get in on the bike. After a few minutes of deep breathing, and a bit of calculations, I knew that even if I had to walk the entire marathon, I’d still be able to make the time cutoff, and finish the race.

After the most grueling 112 miles of my life, I made it off my bike and onto my feet. I walked the first 400 meters or so of the marathon, trying to convince myself that a marathon would be fine, I could do this. Then I started jogging. It was extremely uplifting to see my family spread throughout around the first few miles of the run. I even tried to smile a bit. They knew things were not going well. Liquids started to stay down after about 3 miles. I somehow started to feel a little better. Clouds rolled in, and the temperature dropped from 88 to around 82. By mile 16, I was able to eat some pretzels. The sun had set, and I felt a renewed sense of confidence that I could finish this race. One thing I couldn’t get out of my mind was a bible verse that a friend had recently shared with me, Psalms 140:6-7 “I say to the Lord, you are my God: give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy. O Lord, my Lord of my salvation, You have protected me in the day of battle.”

I was battling harder than I’d ever battled, and I knew I could finish. God loves the Ironman, right?!? He was basically telling me to keep going, the verse is 140:6, it doesn’t get much clearer than that, right?! For the first time in my life, I settled for “just finishing.” I am extremely proud of that. But also still a bit heart broken. I had been thinking about this day for so long, and dreaming of this day to be the epitome of my athletic career. I went into it knowing that I had never been in better physical shape than on that day. But unfortunately, not every day can be your best. And you can’t control everything. Things didn’t go well, and I didn’t feel like I performed to my potential at all. I felt like I’d wasted a year of my life building up to this day, and my plan fell completely apart.

I recently watched a Ted Talk episode about Mara Abbott, the fourth place finisher in the Olympic cycling road race. She talked about something she called “the privilege of a broken heart.” Mara poses the question- would you rather live your life making safe decisions that will protect you from the possibility of failure? Or would you rather put it all out there- put your heart and soul into something, knowing that it could be not good enough, and you may fail. To put it all out there, and “fail,” is still an extraordinary feat to know that you’ve reached your full potential, whatever that means for you. What a privilege to live life this way. Ultimately, I think I’m at peace with this whole Ironman Kona situation. I felt defeated by ironman on that day, but I know this experience has made me tougher. I will come back stronger next time, and I’ve undoubtedly gained an appreciation for what can happen when things don’t go your way. You’ve got to dig deep, and find a whole new level of determination that you might not have known you had. That’s why we do sports- to challenge ourselves, to contest our boundaries, and to know the strength and beauty of what the human body is truly capable of. I do love the ironman with all my heart, even when it defeats me. I love the challenge, I suppose that’s what initially drew me to the sport. I will be back! I’m not sure when, but the Ironman chapter of my life is far from over!

Here is the link to “The Privilege of a Broken Heart”

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