How I got myself back to Kona

I had a post all tee’d up in my head last week that I was going to put up in advance of Ironman Boulder. It was going to be titled “Confessions of a (former) Kona Slot Chaser.” I was going to talk about how I had finally moved on from slot-chasing and in doing so, had actually found more happiness in the sport than I had in years. I assume that most of you reading are friends of mine in real life and know my “story,” but in case anyone is new, I will give you a quick recap:

I started doing tris in 2010 and Ironman Coeur d’Alene that year was the second tri I had ever done. I love the marathon and I knew that my place in tri was in Ironman. After two Ironmans in 2010, I qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona at Ironman Canada in 2011. There were 75 qualifying slots at that race and it was my first year in W40-44. We had 4 slots and an additional slot because Sister Madonna started but DNF’d. Incredibly, the slots rolled to 9th, which was me.

When I arrived in Kona 6 weeks later, I had convinced myself that I didn’t really belong. Back then, you could still pull up the Kona qualifiers in the results, and I think I had the slowest qualifying time from Canada, except for a few 65+ men and women. I spent the week worrying about feeling out of place and not enjoying the excitement because I was scared, intimidated and embarrassed. Not surprisingly, I had a terrible day on the course – maybe my worst performance from a mental standpoint. I started the swim in the back and too far wide (scared), never got it together on the bike course, and started crying to my family at mile 5 of the run that it was too hard and I couldn’t do it. I yelled at my husband late on the run course when he was trying to motivate me to finish in sub-12 . He got frustrated with me at the finish and we left the whole scene in a huff. I spent the rest of the vacation stewing about how terribly I had performed, beating myself up mentally for days.

I knew how to erase the bad memories from 2011. I would re-qualify (ideally without a rolldown) and I would have one giant do-over in Kona. It would all be different the next time around. I would enjoy the pre-race activities and excitement instead of hiding from them, and I would be a different person in Kailua Bay and out on the Queen K. I would prove to myself that I was a good triathlete, a feeling that had always eluded me. People close to me told me that I should be happy with myself and my accomplishments and I knew they were right, but I never felt it. I decided another Kona slot would change everything for me.

I got down to the business of re-qualifying. I jumped into the field at Ironman St George in 2012 without having trained for that event. Everyone knows how that went (terrible). My next Ironman was IMAZ in 2012 and I had a breakthrough day, achieving a new PR and finishing just off the podium in 6th, my highest placement to date. After that, I set my sights on Whistler. To drum up support for the inaugural race, WTC allocated 100 Kona slots to Whistler. I figured all I had to do was finish 6th and I would be Kona bound. Whistler ended up being much harder than I anticipated and I got out biked by a lot and couldn’t make up the time in the run. I was 10th and devastated. It felt like my last chance at Kona and I had blown it. I talked a lot about quitting the sport and returning to something that I was good at and made me feel good about myself (running), but in the back of my head, I knew I could be better than I had been in Canada and I wanted to give it one more shot.

After Whistler, I started working with a new coach, Vince Matteo, who I met through twitter (@felog). Vince is very data driven and analytical, which I liked because I am not those things. I had been using a power meter since 2011, but I didn’t really understand it and didn’t feel like it had helped my cycling in the way everyone claims it does. Vince was all about the power meter. He also didn’t mind that I wanted to do most of my bike training indoors on the trainer.

I was going to target Arizona, where I had had my best performance. But on the day of registration, I fumbled with my Active login for about 30 seconds and by the time I got onto the registration page, registration was already full. I didn’t have a backup plan. Cabo seemed too early in the year. The swim at CdA still scared me. My ideal criteria was a wetsuit-legal swim, flattish bike, and warm weather. It hit me like an epiphany…Boulder!  Mark was already registered and I had originally resisted signing up because it’s hard when we both do the same race and I had vowed I wouldn’t do any more summer races because it was a challenge to train with the kids out of school. But the more I thought about the idea, the more I liked it. I could train on the course and train with other friends who were doing the race. We wouldn’t have to travel. I didn’t think I could be competitive in Boulder, so I set other goals. I wanted to be a better swimmer and biker. I wanted to run a 3:30 marathon. Those were my goals – to just be better.

Winter rolled around and I put in a lot of long hours on the trainer. By spring, I had already done more long runs than I usually did in an entire Ironman build. My mindset had shifted from being completely results oriented (Kona, podium) to just focusing on my performance. Vince and I never talked about Kona. He knew that I dreamed of going back and having one more chance there, but it was never discussed. The closest we came to talking about it was in a phone conversation in late spring. I think I had been missing workouts and moving things around on the schedule like I typically do, and he said something like, “I know what it takes to achieve the goals you have and you are not really doing that work right now.”  He was right. I was not 100% committed and it showed.

Sometimes (a lot of times) I would tell Mark I wasn’t going to do the race. I didn’t feel like I was going to be good and didn’t want to try. Mark always gives it to me straight, and he said it was ridiculous to put in all of the time I had over the winter just to quit in summer when the weather was finally getting nice. He told me that I could be good, I had talent, but I was wasting it by not fully committing. In March, they announced a change in Chicago Marathon registration and I had an automatic qualifying time. My sister and I made plans to do the race. Chicago falls on the same weekend as Kona. I decided that I was moving on and made plans for the fall that did not include Hawaii or triathlon. It was a small thing, but making that plan to do Chicago gave me a lot of peace of mind.

Just at the point in the year when I usually fall apart with the kids out of school and no set schedule, I pulled myself together. Very much a night owl, I forced myself to do some training in the early morning so that it had less of an impact on my family. I asked for help with the kids from sitters and friends so I didn’t miss important workouts. I stopped drinking alcohol almost entirely because I wanted to nail my workouts every single day.

All of those small choices added up, and by last weekend, I was ready. I wanted it to be hot, and it was. I wanted to wear a wetsuit in the swim, and I did (after a scare the week prior). I hoped the bike course wouldn’t be too windy, and it was a very calm day.

I had some time and data goals for Sunday, but my biggest goal was to stay in the moment. I would not allow myself to think about the other girls or how I might finish. I would only focus on the work that needed to be done at that exact moment. Even throughout the entire marathon, I did not allow myself to think about qualifying. I simply wanted to run the best I could and pass as many people as possible.

Here is the result:


In some ways it was a complete surprise, but in other ways it wasn’t. I had trained to swim around 1:15, bike around 5:45, and run a sub 3:40. Those were almost my exact splits (1:13/5:40/3:41). I focused on myself and my own performance and the results happened, just like some wise people had always told me they would.


3 thoughts on “How I got myself back to Kona

  1. Jen –

    I didn’t know the details of the 2011 race! Awesome story… Isn’t it nuts that you can convince yourself that you don’t belong in Kona?

    Your story reminded me of my first time qualifying in 2005. I flew out to Honu to race the 70.3 but basically got sick so raced with a head cold but had a terrible race… however, I somehow finished 2nd in my AG, 15mins slower than 1st but there were two slots. At the awards, a fellow racer (older, more experienced and had a faster race but finished 6th in her AG) turned to me and said “it’s total luck, you don’t deserve to go to Kona with that time”. I was devastated and never thought I belonged there in 2005…

    The following 3 years (2006-2008), I tried to qualify a few of times: IMAZ (5th but 4 slots) Honu (bad swim) and IMLou (sick so pulled out the week of the race). I finally got my health and training in order in late 2008 and got myself to Kona by winning my AG at IMAZ… still, I looked to the other AGs around me and noted my time was slower than a few of the other winning times…

    What’s great for you this year is that you qualified outright in one of the fastest age groups of the day! Kudos for a great race… See you in Kona!

    • Jordan, thanks for your kind words. After 2011, I said to myself “I don’t know how the people who get in through the lottery do it,” and I knew I would never enter the lottery to go back. But I think they must be coming at it from a different mindset, which I am actually jealous of, because they usually seem to enjoy the experience. See you in October!

  2. Pingback: Last Chances & Lost Causes: 2014 Ironman Louisville

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