Ironman World Championship Race Report

There are two types of athletes in Kona: those going for a certain time or age group placement and…everyone else. I’m in the second group. Because I know that I can’t be competitive at the World Championship, I came up with some different goals for the day. I wanted to beat my splits from 2011, which, when I qualified for this event back in August seemed like a given. I also wanted to finish in the daylight, which would have required an 11:06 finish. More than those goals, what I wanted most was to take in the experience and treat it as a once-in-a-lifetime event in case I never found my way back. I wanted to enjoy the views on the bike course, stop and take a picture with my family on the run course, and go back to the finish line for the midnight finish. Some of those goals were accomplished and some weren’t.

While I would like to just talk about the run, since it’s the only part of the day I really excelled at and it contains my happiest memories, triathlon is comprised of three sports, and the run was preceded by a swim and a very long bike.

The Swim 

Once everything was situated, I headed over to the start right near the arch to wait for the age group men to start their race. I saw friend and occasional training partner Michelle Yost a few times that morning and we found ourselves together again waiting to enter to water. We reminded ourselves that even though it was going to be hard, the hard conditions affect everyone, and lots of people would love have the chance to experience what we knew was going to be a hard day in Kona. You know how on tv when they show the athletes before the start and everyone looks very somber? It’s like that in real life. There isn’t much joking around before the Kona swim.

Waiting to enter the water is the worst part for me, but once we entered, I was calm. I swam over the the left side (which is the outside), near the TYR floaty thing and a few rows back. The gun went off and we got moving. Although I had people all around, we seemed to all be swimming around the same pace and I was pretty comfortable right from the beginning. One of the things I usually dislike about open water swimming is that I feel like I have to interrupt my stroke to sight a lot, but in Kona, the water is so clear that it’s much easier to see feet, so I only sighted a few times throughout the swim and that was mostly just to see how far away I was from the turn and the finish.

The water was a little choppy, but it didn’t feel harder than when I raced in 2011, and I actually thought I was having a really strong swim. I was on feet the entire time and even managed to get around people and find new, faster feet on several occassions. After the turn, I started passing some of the slower men who had started 10 minutes before the women. The swim seemed to take forever, but that’s always the case for me. Eventually I reached the stairs and saw the clock at the exit. It was close to 1:30, and I was shocked. In 2011 I had swam 1:26 and I never dreamed I would be slower than that this year since I have so much more experience and am a much better swimmer now.

Obligatory swim exit pic

Obligatory swim exit pic

I got my bag and ran into the change tent where my awesome volunteer assured me the swim was slow this year and “everyone is unhappy with their time.” That made me feel better and I decided to try to let it go, although I spent some mental energy on the bike wondering if the clock at the finish was still set to the pro time and I had actually swam really well. It wasn’t and I didn’t.

Swim Time: 1:28

The Bike

Here’s the part I wish I could tell differently. I wish I could give some explanation for why I it took me close to 7 hours to ride the bike course in Kona, but the truth is, that’s just how long it took. In all of my thoughts prior to this race, it never occurred to me that I might spend almost 7 hours on the bike. The thought never entered my mind. In 2011, I rode 6:25 and I am a much better rider now. Yes, it was very windy on race day and I am particularly terrible in the wind, but the wind affected everyone and it did not take everyone 7 hours to finish the bike. I am half-expecting to get my bike back from Tribike Transport and find the rear brake rubbing the way it was for Boulder 70.3, but it seems more likely that a challenging day like the one we had on race day cracks open my weakness on the bike much more than a calm day. Lots of room for improvement here, obviously.

Back to the race itself…

Things were pretty much clicking along as planned, but then around the time we passed Waikoloa, the wind turned on as if someone had flipped a switch. All of the sudden, we were riding into the wind much, much earlier than I had planned. Near the left turn to Kawaihae, a woman rode up next to me and we exchanged sympathies about the wind. Then she said, “I hope we make the bike cutoff.” I was immediately alarmed. I didn’t even know what the bike cutoff was, and didn’t think we would miss it even with a 7-hour bike split, but her comment got in my head and threw me off for a while.

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Cringe-worthy, but I like the backdrop!

The bike is usually a total blur for me, but one moment that stands out is when I was descending from Hawi (on the bullhorns, of course) and I passed Maria Simone, another one of Vince’s athletes, who was racing her first Kona. I had the pleasure of spending time with Maria and her husband John, who was also racing, at the Slowtwitch party earlier in the week and I felt like we all hit it off. By the time I was headed back from Hawi, the majority of the field was already well on their way to T2 or even out on the run course, so it was a bit desolate. I realized I was primarily riding near the older athletes in the field, which was inspirational to witness, but at the same time made me feel bad that I was so far back. Seeing Maria twice on the bike and exchanging a few words gave me a much-needed lift.

Maria, John and I at the Slowtwitch party

Me, John and Maria at the Slowtwitch party

A final word about Hawi. Even though this part of the course lived up to its legendary reputation for windy conditions on race day, I think it’s the most beautiful part of the bike because of the great ocean views. Even though I was struggling a bit mentally and physically at this point (I had thought about dropping out of the race in Hawi because the bike was so hard for me), I tried to look at the ocean and remember that I was lucky enough to have the chance to race in paradise and, oh yeah, I was supposed to be having fun!

Having fun (sort of)

Having fun (sort of)

Bike Time: 6:57

T2: 

When I finally arrived at T2, I told my bike catcher that it was one of the happiest moments of my life and that is pretty much true. For the first time in 9 Ironmans, I had decided to put a full change of clothes into my T2 bag. While packing my gear, Mark had said “what would you wear if you were running a marathon?” So, rather than face 26.2 miles in my soggy tri kit, I put on a new top, running shorts and I was off and running.

The Run

Although it was not part of the plan to be on the bike for as long as I was, I had planned to bike a little more conservatively in order to set myself up for a fast run. I thought I could run around the same time I had run in Boulder and maybe even a little better. I hit mile 1 in 7:22, but shortly after I settled into a 7:30 pace, which I held all the way up and back on Ali’i.

You have to understand how strange this was for where I was at in the race. No one around me was running this fast and the spectators were cheering me on like crazy. The louder they yelled, the faster I ran, and the more the momentum built. I no longer cared that I had swam almost 1:30 and biked almost 7. I decided I was going to be the first person in the history of Kona to put together a 7-hour bike and a 3:30 run. I have no idea if that is actually true, but it was all I had left to salvage my pride in the race and I was determined to go after it. The miles clicked off and I ran through the aid stations like I was running a stand-alone marathon. The great part about it being late in the day is that it was no longer hot. There was cloud cover and a light rain.

Having actual fun

Having actual fun

I knew my family would be at the 5 mile mark and shortly before the turn, I spotted Mark and Jack on the side of the road. They didn’t know what shape they were going to find me in at that point or what had been going on, so they didn’t say much as they tried to assess how I was doing. Further up the road, I saw my sister with Kendall and I stopped for a moment to say hi and get that picture I had promised myself.

After the race, my sister told me that they debated for a long time what to say when I finally reached the turn around on Ali’i, knowing that I was probably not having my best day. They decided on “You’re doing it!” which became our slogan for the rest of the vacation.

Mile 5 with Kendall

Mile 5 with Kendall

I ran back through town, lifted by the crowds. I charged up Palani and Mark was at the top, having made it just in time to see me again before I headed out on the Queen K. I think he was sort of shocked at how well I was holding it together and, frankly, I was, too. Anything can happen in the Ironman run, but I was feeling good and going for it.

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The Energy Lab, hyped so much on TV as being so hard, is one of my favorite parts of the run course. By the time I got there, the sun was setting and a volunteer handed me a glowstick. There was a helicopter hovering overhead shooting the sunset. One of the aid stations had my favorite Ironman run snack, green grapes, and I grabbed a whole bunch and ran along like that, glowstick in one hand (it was annoying around my neck so I just carried it), grapes in the other, enjoying the view. Just before the exit to the Energy Lab, the Newton run screen played the video Kendall and Mark had made for me at the Expo and I laughed and cried at the same time.

Back out on the Queen K, it started to get dark. I had some company for a few miles as a guy and I matched strides for a while until he pulled ahead, the only athlete to pass me on the run. When I look back on this race, one of the images that will stay with me forever is charging up the Queen K in the dark, with no one to chase or run with, not gunning for a slot, or a time or a podium position, but just running hard because it felt like all I really had on the day.

As I rounded the corner back out onto Palini and down the hill, I chucked my glowstick at the final aid station and started kicking towards the finish. I ran along the right side of the road, high fiving everyone in sight to share and celebrate the moment.

This is actually from midnight finish, but it was the same view for me

This photo is from midnight finish, but it was the same view for me

I turned right on Ali’i and tried to take it in. I heard my family shouting and I peeked behind to make sure no one was right behind me. Then I attempted a finish line jump, which didn’t come out that great, but is still sort of funny.

Run Time: 3:32

Final time: 12:08

Not that it matters, but I feel compelled to mention the time on the clock is from the men's start

As I said on Facebook, I may be back again and I may not, but I have no regrets about the race. O.k. That’s baloney. I actually wish I had biked better, but hindsight is 20/20 and if I had to choose between a 6:30 bike and a 3:30 run, I would take the 3:30 run any day. Although I would like to think I am better than the time on the clock at the finish, that was as good as I was on the day. Sure, I dream of going back and finally getting my daylight finish, but I also realize that there may be other things out there for me, other dreams that need fulfilling.

To the friends back home, the new friends I met in Kona, and the friends who follow online, thank you for your unwavering support and encouragement. Everyone who does this sport is an inspiration to me, whether you are an age group champion or a midnight finisher. Thanks also to my coach, Vince Matteo, for helping me get here to begin with. And last but not least, a huge thanks to my family, for always believing in and supporting me. None of this would be worth it to me if they were not right by my side.

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3 thoughts on “Ironman World Championship Race Report

  1. Awesome Jen! What a day! It was brutal and your run shows that you never gave up and you really mastered letting the past go and staying in the moment. Proud of you!!!

  2. Awesome race, my sister from another mister! It was great to see you out there, and I’m so glad I had the chance to meet you. Sad we didn’t hang after the race, but John and I were not suitable family friendly company the day after the race. #Drunks. hahahahahah!!!!

    Hoping to see you again at the next race – any chance you’ll be doing the Double Iron in Florida in March? It will be so much fun!!!!!! 🙂

    Way to go, mama!!!!

  3. Wonderful accomplishment! You have such determination and are inspiring to me! A lot of people just dream about competing in these, you do it!

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