Please forgive the time that it has taken me to write about the Ironman race in Kona, Hawaii. I was practising my recovery – sunbathing and relaxing instead!
Going to Kona and competing in the Ironman World Champs was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far. I can honestly say that I enjoyed it and am so pleased with my race. However, as you all know, I did find it difficult training over the winter and there were times when I was not sure if I would make it to the race or whether I would be able to finish well.
After I got back from the Ironman 70.3 World Champs in Mooloolaba, Australia, I got very sick again and had to take another 2 weeks off of training. By the time I got better it was only 2 weeks before I was due to fly to Hawaii and only 3 weeks until the big race. Needless to say I was very stressed and worried about how I would go.
One of the biggest battles I had was mental against my own perception of how well I thought I should do. I say should because I kept thinking back to March and my fantastic race and time in the New Zealand Ironman. I didn’t think that I would be able to race as well as that and that upset me. But once I reflected on my build up and accepted the training that I had been able to do I felt much better and was excited again about going to Kona.
Before I knew it, Scott and I were flying to Hawaii. Everything started happening so fast from this point on – except for the waiting around at airports and immigration parts!
When I stepped off the plane in Kona, my first thought was how unbearably hot it was! I desperately wondered how I was going to race in these conditions. However, once I had a few days of taper week training under my belt I started to adjust. I think the Hot Yoga and sauna work also paid off. More and more people started to flood into the town too, and I got more excited as the atmosphere grew.
Once I got an idea of how I felt training in the heat, I then thought about my race plan with this in mind. My main goal was to finish, but finish in a way that meant I could run the marathon part of the race. The next question was how was I going to do this? I needed to keep my biking within my limits, keep cool, and walk each of the run aid stations to get in all the fluid and food I needed. An important moment for me came when I was at the pre-race dinner and was watching a video montage about the race. All of a sudden I felt a sense of calm and with it came the knowledge that I was going to have a good race. “Good” meant that I was going to achieve the goals that I had set out in my race plan and the heat would not defeat me.
The night before the race I went to bed early like I normally do, but I was too excited to sleep! I woke up every hour until finally I got up at about 4am to have breakfast and make my way down to the start – along with over 2000 other people!
I was so paranoid about my bike tires deflating that I must have checked them about 3 times before leaving the transition area. Then I went back in a checked them again. Finally I went and got into my swim skin (no wetsuit for this swim as the water is too warm). My goal for the swim was to go hard and if I got anywhere near the 70min mark I would be very happy. I had done a practice race around the swim course and did that in about 72mins so I was hopeful that I could do better on race day.
The pros went first, followed by the men and then 10mins later the women. We swam out to the start line and tread water for what seemed like a very long time. It was very hard to stay in one spot as the currents moved everyone around and pushed us all together. I had no idea whether I was in a good position and thought I may be too far forward. Finally the gun went off and arms and legs thrashed frantically in the water, yet no one was moving forward. I think I may have been in the worst spot! I was stuck behind a bunch of women who were trying, and failing, to get around the surfer who was marking the start line.
Eventually I did get going but it was one of the worst, and vicious, starts that I have ever had. My race number tattoo was scratched off by the nails of other swimmers and I also had a big nail mark on the inside of my arm. The swim was the most physical part of the day and the part of the race that I did just want to be over as quickly as possible.
When I finally ran up the stairs out of the water I was so excited to see that I had done the swim in 71mins. The next task was to get through T1 and make sure I got everything for the bike. The biggest challenge was getting my arm sleeves on over wet skin, closely followed by finding a seat to sit on that hadn’t been peed on.
Even though it was only about 8:30am it was already getting hot! The bike was hard work even though I thought I was biking within my limits. It felt like I was biking into a headwind on the way out and while I was making good time, the heat, wind and effort were taking their toll. But I was looking forward to the tail wind on the way back and when I turned a Hawi I managed to do 5km in about 5:30mins! I even ran out of gears. But this didn’t last and after a short time it felt like there was a head wind again. So I focused on maintaining a steady wattage and not over exerting myself. Plus it looked like I was going to finish the bike in 6 hours and this was in line with what I expected to do. My actual time was 6 hours and 9 very annoying seconds.
I could also tell that despite putting on sunscreen in T1, I was badly sunburnt on my legs and a small section of my back where my top had ridden up. I now have a scalding reminder of the race – no need for an Ironman tattoo for me! I put on more sunscreen in T2 and headed out on the run.
The first 15km of the run was unbelievably hot! I immediately wished I was already at the first aid station so that I could get my hands on some ice. Anytime that there was some shade on the road I would run to it and stay in it for as long as I could. My goal for the run was simply to run it so I started out much slower than I normally would and if I could run faster later on in the race when the temperature dropped then I would. But for now it was run, aid station, walk, ice, sponge water, eat, run and repeat.
I resisted the urge to chase others as they sprinted up Palani Rd – a steep road by anyone’s standard – as I knew I would pass them walking later. When I reached the top I had a moment of pure joy as there was a long section of downhill to enjoy. Plus I could tell that the day was starting to cool off a bit. I couldn’t hide the smile on my face! However, the dreaded Energy Lab section was still to come.
As the sun was low in the sky, the Energy Lab was pretty uneventful for me. It was mentally challenging knowing that I still had about 16km still to do and a bit of an uphill to get home but there were still a lot of people around me and a lot of people still to come. So I enjoyed the small victories, like landing a basketball style shot into the trashcan without breaking my stride.
From there on I danced and high five-ed my way back to the finish line. The last 2km was all down hill and I decided that this was my time to shine. I sprinted so fast down that hill that I felt like I was going to fall over! At least felt like I was “sprinting “in comparison to the previous km. It was such a thrill as I turned onto Ali’i Drive and could hear everyone at the finish cheering and willing me to finish strong – in a total time of 11:34 hours.
And I would do it all again!
Thank you to Sarah Coales (my Coach) and Scott for believing in me. Thank you to Results Room Gym and DAC Beachcroft New Zealand for the financial support and to Kiwivelo for all the bike fits and selling me an awesome new Trek bike – three weeks out!