Closing the Chapter, But Not the Book

It’s dark. It is so dark on the Queen K that I am worried about running into people head on as they run towards me, but there aren’t many of them out there now. There is no moon and I am not yet to the hill with the street lamps – the famous “Dave and Mark hill” where they had the Iron War. Spectators are riding their bikes in the opposite direction, looking for friends whose days maybe have not turned out as planned. I am expecting Mark to pop out of the darkness to yell at me. He has been watching the tracker and knows I have been run-walking for miles. I remember 2011 when he appeared along this stretch to try to get me to break 4:00 for the run and salvage some of my pride. I’m slower than that today. Mark isn’t there. I am both relieved and sad.

I am wearing a glowstick, but I refuse to wear it around my neck, instead, clipping it to my race belt so I am less aware of it bouncing around as I run. I once dreamed of finishing this race in the daylight (which requires around an 11-hour finish), but I never have. I will chuck the glowstick in dramatic fashion a mile from the finish and the people who see me do it will cheer.

I get to the final aid station on the Queen K. I have been walking the aid stations for the entire marathon and I’m sure I walked this one, too, although I don’t remember. The volunteers are still offering to spray us with water, but it is dark and not that hot anymore, and I politely decline. A volunteer says to me, “there are a lot of people waiting for you just down the road,” and I almost start crying thinking about Mark, my kids and my sister waiting for me. The thought of keeping them waiting is the thing that has kept me running, at times, for the last hour. I feel badly that I am making them wait. I crest the hill and turn right on Palani, which was filled with people a few hours ago, but is deserted now. Everyone has made their way to the finish.

I turn left on Kuakini and almost make the wrong right turn before Hualalai, but luckily someone tells me before I head the wrong way. I am pretty much on my own and people are walking all over the place and I have forgotten this part of the course.

I turn right on Ali’i. I am running fast now, with solid form. The way I wish I had for the prior 25 miles. I run fast enough to feel like me, but not so fast that I don’t try to take it all in. The things that had hurt enough to make me walk much of the past 6, 13, 24 miles don’t hurt anymore – a strange finish chute phenomenon. I move toward the right side of the road and high five everyone for at least a block. I smile.

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We are in the water, the other pink caps and I, and I am holding onto a buoy to save energy, reminding myself that this is the last time I will be cold today. I am nervous about the swim and I hate that. This is my 11th Ironman and I wish I was used to it by now, but I’m not. Mike Reilly is standing on the pier, counting down on the loudspeaker, and I can still hear the drums from the pier and the helicopter overhead. The sunrise was beautiful and it is going to be a clear, hot day.

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I start on the buoy line but in the back, and that seemed like a great idea until about 200 meters into the swim when all of the people who had started wide merged over and I become completely boxed in. I am nervous because it feels so crowded now and for a few moments, I think I might panic and have to DNF. I try to gain control of my breathing and heart and I pretend I am in our neighborhood pool, swimming masters. The panicky feeling passes and people swim up ahead and I am o.k. for the rest of the swim.

I exit the water and the clock says 1:20, which is a Kona swim PR for me and the same time I swam in the practice race the week before. I feel good.

The bike is a blur of wind, heat, pineapple Skratch, sunburnt legs, and trying not to get too down about the wind, heat and the fact I am in the back of the race. There are no draft packs in my part of the field – it’s too sparse – and I know the big obstacle on the bike won’t really be the wind, but it will be me, and whether I get discouraged and give up before making it back to town.

Amy passes me near Kawaihae and I wish I can stay with her for the company, but she is riding a completely different pace and she disappears up the road. It is not as windy as last time and I ride to and from Hawi in an uneventful way, not feeling too terrible, but it’s the Kona bike, so I am also not feeling great. A couple of aid stations on the Queen K are out of water (this was true for the bike and the run), and this makes me way more unhappy than it should have. The soles of my feet feel like they are on fire – they are inexplicably burning – and I think a lot about pulling to the side to loosen my shoes but I never do.

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I decided before the race that I would try to ride my best bike split (if conditions allowed) and I roll into T2 at 6:30, which is nearly 30 minutes better than my disastrous split in 2014, but not quite my best, although I don’t know that at the time. I rode my best bike split in 2011 when I was brand new and not much of a cyclist. It is one of my unsolved Kona mysteries why I have not been able to beat my time from that year despite more experience and training.

I take my time in T2 because there doesn’t seem to be an urgent reason to rush. So far, I have swam and rode pretty much what I expected and now all I have to do is run sub-4:00 and I will have a Kona PR. I’ve joked all week that all I want on this day is to make it to T2. Then it is easy. Or at least that’s how it usually goes. I have done ten Ironmans and only run over 4 hours once, in St. George, and I don’t count that one since I didn’t really train for the race. I have trained for this run. I don’t think it will be a 3:30 day, but 3:45 doesn’t seem out of reach. 4:00 should be a breeze.

I am running up Ali’i. Friends are heading the other direction, spectators soak me with water, and I try to figure out how to solve the problem that my head doesn’t quite feel like it is fully attached. I drink Coke and eat oranges and walk all of the long aid stations and try to find my run legs, but they never come. A stranger gets me running around mile 4 by telling me he will wait right there for me until I turn around and come back. This sounds reassuring so I pick up the pace again. When I am running, I am running well (8s), but I can’t do it for very long. Not even a whole mile. Every time I start running, I get abdominal cramps, and while it is not the worst pain in the world, it is enough to slow me to a walk. My family comes into view around mile 4 and I feel bad that they have to see me struggle.

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The guy is still there when I run back by at mile 6-ish and he yells and I smile and it helps for a bit. Someone else yells, “We’ve got a runner in the house!” and that helps me pick up the pace and hold it for a while. Yes, I’m a runner. This is the part I can do. Lots of times, it feels like the only part I can do. My running is the reason I’m here.

I reach Palani and don’t even try to run it. Jack walks next to me, trying to get me to run. I start running at the top and he is there with me, keeping pace in his flip flops. I tell him it might take me a while to reach the finish and he says, “I know.”

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Out on the Queen K there is a breeze and even though there are no spectators, I am happy to be out there and away from the swamp of Ali’i Drive. Somehow I make it to the Energy Lab and, once again, the sun is setting. I see Amy at the turn and she says I am going to catch her but I never do. I make a few friends out there as I pass people running and then they catch me when I walk and we walk together. I tell my new friends that it doesn’t matter that we are walking because “we get to enjoy the course longer.” Some laugh and some don’t. Everyone is consumed with their own struggle and by now, we all are struggling.

We fly home the next day and I know it will be a while before I come back, if ever. In the past, I always felt like I wanted another chance to be “good,” but I have a way of setting the bar so high that I can never reach it and I am not sure why I can’t just be satisfied to have been there, part of the show, and this makes me feel guilty, but it’s just how I am.

It is 48 hours after the race and I am back at my desk, trying to determine if I have dropped any balls over the past few weeks trying to get ready for the race. I wanted to see if I could work full time, be a mom, and race Kona. I was able to do all of that, but some things had to give this year and the choices I made revealed themselves out on the race course. It was too much, but also not enough, and I certainly didn’t train hard enough for the day, but I also don’t regret the other ways I spent my time.

We have so many wonderful family memories from our trips here, especially this one. We swam with mantas (well, some of us did), rode in a helicopter over the volcano, saw the waterfalls near Hilo, hiked the Pololu Valley, saw a reef shark, drove up to the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center, enjoyed sunrises over Hualalai and sunsets into the Pacific.

If it weren’t for the lure of this place, and this race, I wouldn’t have been to so many other cool places and met so many great people. Thanks to my real family, my triathlon family, my Coeur family, and everyone who has been there throughout this journey.

Mahalo,

Jen

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What I’m Bringing to Kona

I leave for the Big Island in three days and although I haven’t packed yet, I have a good idea of what I’m bringing along. As I get my gear organized (in carry on luggage only!), I thought I would share the essentials on my packing list for the Ironman World Championships and my Hawaiian vacation afterwards:

My bike! I ride a Quintana Roo Illicito with a Zipp 404/808 wheelset with powertap. I don’t have to pack this item because it is already on its way to the Big Island with TriBike Transport. TriBike Transport is a large expense, but it was worth it for this race because I am traveling out a few days ahead of my bike mechanic husband and our travel arrangements are complicated, involving two flights per leg and an overnight in Los Angeles on the way back. When I factored in the bike fees for my separate flights, it wasn’t much more to use TriBike Transport and, best of all, it is hassle free! Huge thanks to my shop, KompetitiveEdge, for getting it tuned and race-ready.

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My road helmet: I am not going for podium spot or placement in Kona. Instead, I am trying to set myself up to run well. After some internal debate, I decided I might improve my odds of making that happen if I can stay cool on the bike. If it is good enough for past world champions (Crowie, Chrissy), it is good enough for me.

(imagine a pic here of an LG road helmet. I’m too lazy to walk down to the garage to grab it and take a pic)

Lots of Nuun: I’m a Nuun Ambassador, but I would drink it even if I wasn’t because I love turning a plain, ol’ glass of water into a tasty serving of electrolytes with no added sugar or calories. I’ll drink a lot of Nuun on my long flight to Hawaii and I’ll drink it daily once I get there to make sure I am fully hydrated and my electrolytes are topped off.

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Race nutrition: I use several products on the bike. Osmo in my bottles and Picky Bars, Honey Stinger chews, and Bonk Breakers to eat. I know it seems like a lot of different products, but I find I can take in more calories if I mix it up a little instead of sticking to one thing. Luckily, Bonk Breakers are also served on the course, so I don’t have to worry about running out of my preferred fuel.

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Loads of electronics: My birthday is about one week after we return from Hawaii, but I received an early birthday present from my family – a new MacBook Air! I love my old 2008 MacBook, but the battery is shot and I can’t use it to watch movies on the plane because the battery dies after about an hour. I am excited to bring my new MacBook Air instead. I am also bringing my nice SLR camera, which I almost never use because it is heavy, but it takes awesome pics, and my Kindle, which I cannot live without.

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Planet Sun sunscreen: I burn easily and have a family history of melanoma. The last time I raced in Kona, I had the outline of my tri kit on my back for the entire winter. Several people turned me on to Planet Sun and I have been using it successfully with no burns for my long training days and races. Since I am packing entirely in carry on luggage, I bought several travel sizes to take with so I don’t have to hunt for Planet Sun once I get to Kona.

Does your sunscreen company send you personalized notes?

Does your sunscreen company send you personalized notes?

Oakley sunnies: aviators for hanging out, Commit for racing, and Miss Conduct when I am feeling sassy.

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Betty Design bikinis: I am not a SoCal surfer girl, but wearing Betty Designs makes me feel like I am! I always get tons of compliments on the skulls.

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My trucker hat collection: yes, I am on the trucker hat bandwagon, although I will probably race in a visor instead. I like to think I look like my tri-crush Bree Wee in a trucker, but in reality, I think I look more like Mike Myers in Wayne’s World. That doesn’t stop me though.

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Family cheer shirts: last time I raced in Kona, I made the kids custom shirts, so naturally, they wanted shirts this year, too. I ordered from Custom Ink for the first time and I would not hesitate to use this company again. Very easy to create your design and great customer service. The only glitch was they would not let me print the word “Ironman” on my shirts because of trademark issues. I decided that we all know what “Kona” means in the triathlon world and “Hawaii 140.6 triathlon” sounded too silly.

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I look forward to getting all of this stuff in my suitcase, getting over to Big Island, and letting the fun begin!

The Non-Race Report

Today is an interesting day.  It’s a non-race, race day.

First, I was planning to be here:

Then I decided I was going to go here:

Instead, I am here:

It’s not a bad place to be

I went to one of my favorite places this morning – Waterton Canyon – and did one of my favorite things – running. It was a gorgeous, warm, bluebird sky morning, and I honestly had the thought when I was out there “there is no place I would rather be than right here, doing this.”

Someday I hope to tackle both of these races, but this year just didn’t seem like the time for either one. I have always wanted to race IMWI. I grew up going to a summer camp in Wisconsin, so the area has a familiar feel. I spectated the race in 2003 when Mark did his first IM and got to experience the course and the town. It was a fun venue and I hope to experience that course from the racing side someday. Hopefully when “someday” comes around, I will be more of the cyclist that I need to be for the IMWI course.

Vegas, well, I was a bit more scared of that race. I knew its reputation for having a non-wetsuit legal swim, a super hard, hilly bike and a hot and hilly run. Since I spent the summer being a bit more relaxed, I didn’t want to go there and have a bad race and shake my confidence for IMAZ later this fall. I have too much respect for World Championship races to just show up and hope for the best and that’s what I would have been doing in Vegas today. I hope to race this event, but I would really like it to be something that Mark and I do together. Maybe next year…

Instead of racing, I am several weeks back into training hard for IMAZ. Our friend and tri-mentor, Kevin Koncazk, agreed to take me on as a coaching client for my IMAZ build and I am super happy to have placed my training into his capable hands. As much as I enjoyed doing my own thing over the summer, I felt like I needed some outside guidance to make the most of my time in the 3 months before IMAZ. I knew I wanted someone local who was familiar with my training terrain and could see me swim, bike and run in person every once in a while. I wanted someone who specializes in IM athletes and particularly people who are trying to KQ. Kevin coached Mark for IMCdA in 2010, and while Mark proved himself to be largely uncoachable due to his overwhelming need to do exactly what he wants in training rather than take someone else’s advice, we both trust Kevin’s judgment and experience. When I was scared out of my mind in Kona last year, Kevin took the time to call me and go through a lot of aspects of the race and the course. He has followed my race results for the past two years and knows my strengths and weaknesses. It seemed to make sense to trust him with my training this fall and I have been really happy with the decision so far.

I am doing a few things differently than I’ve done before. It’s been fun and interesting to train in some different ways and I’m finding that it feels fresh rather than the same old thing I have done for the past 5 IMs.

Congrats to everyone who got out there this weekend and put themselves on the line. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to find out what you’re made of in the world of triathlon and I have so much admiration for those who get out there and give it their all and for those who were getting out there for the first time. I enjoyed virtually cheering everyone on and being inspired by their determination.

Starting ’em young

Big day today – Jack did his first triathlon!

The “Dash at the Splash” was held at Splash Waterpark in Golden. We considered this event last year, but by the time I got around to signing the kids up, it had already sold out. So this year, I planned ahead and registered early.

What I love about Jack is that what he might be lacking in natural talent, he more than makes up for in heart and determination. The kid tries hard. All the time. I think he must get this from his dad. He loves a challenge and likes to push himself to try new things. Last year, he was so proud to climb a 14er at the age of 6. This year, he was one of the first kids on the block to ride a hilly, hard 6-mile loop around our neighborhood. He wasn’t afraid to swim a 50 in swim meets when a lot of kids his age were only swimming a 25.

Jack’s twin sister is a bit different. She tends to be a little more apprehensive about new things and doubtful of her abilities. Despite our best efforts to get her to do the race too, she decided to skip it and stay home with my sister this morning. We were a little disappointed by her decision because we knew she would have been fine at the race, but we don’t want to force things like this onto the kids and it had to be something she wanted to do.

Anyway, back to Jack…

Jack knew all summer that this event was on the horizon and he trained accordingly. It’s probably safe to say that he was one of the only kids who had done some brick runs before race day. Jack loves biking, but the running doesn’t come as easily. He kept asking us how long the run was (answer: .5 mile). I knew he was worried he would have to walk.

We got to the Splash with plenty of time to stake out a good transition spot. I helped set up his transition.

Then we went over to the pool for the pre-race meeting. One of Jack’s good friends also did the race and they hung out before the swim start.

Rockin’ his customized TYR Special Ops goggles

Here is a secret about kids’ tris – it’s all about the transitions. Once the swim heats got going, it was apparent who was racing and who was just out there for the medal and free food. Jack was there to race and he made every second count, passing some faster swimmers who were doing a full towel-dry on the pool deck. Not us. We crammed his wet feet into his shoes and raced up the hill to his bike. Mark threw on his jersey, I clipped his helmet and race belt, and Jack was off on the bike course.

I don’t have any pictures of that because it went by pretty quickly and I was too busy telling him which was to ride and shouting encouragement.

Before I could knew it, he was riding down the hill back to transition and I grabbed his bike just like an Ironman-catcher would, and we snagged his helmet and sent him out on the run course.

The run might have been a tad short (which was just fine with us) because right after he disappeared from view, Jack was heading back towards us again. He ran uphill, into the chute without walking one step.

Jack got his medal and we snapped a few post-race pics.

I realize my outfit is overkill for spectating a kids’ tri. In my defense, I went for a ride directly from the race.

This event was very low-key and I would highly recommend something like this for your kid’s first tri. There were no timing chips and no finish clock. The entire emphasis is on finishing and having fun. It was very different from the Ironkids event I saw in Boulder a few weeks ago where many of the kids seemed to be in tri kits sporting aero helmets and lace locks. Even though we some kids’ parents probably took it a little more seriously than the situation warranted, most people were pretty laid back. Most importantly, Jack felt really good about his race and his smile here says it all.