Hardest. Race. Ever.
And exactly what I would expect of a race that determines a World Champion. Out of my three Kona experiences, this one had it all; ocean swells, relentless wind, and surface of the sun temperatures. And for me, a touch of redemption.
My biggest fears? Someone crashing into my clavicle during the practice swims at the pier. Only 700 people from the US qualify for Kona. The rest of the field swims counter clockwise in the pool and drives on the wrong side of the road. As you can imagine, an unorganized open water swim course turns into a cluster of wrong way bodies. I knew if I survived the practice swims, I just needed to get through the washing machine of the swim start. Here is my I survived the practice look:
My other fear? Crashing on my new, fast, wonderful and amazing Dimond bike. The bike is “brilliant under pressure” and I had proven in my last race to make “poor choices” under pressure. I was skittish during the wind gusts of my practice rides. I kept hope that my competitive spirit would shine through on race day keeping me aero whatever the conditions.
Here is my Ruster Hen House packed bike! I save $400 in bike travel fees to Kona alone! Sherpa not included:
Here is my bike ready to be put back together again. Super easy to build and fits on a coffee table!
The days leading up to the race were wonderful. I shared a house with my coaching colleagues from Endurance Corner. Coach Justin Daerr, IM Boulder Champion, carbo loading and my Coach Marilyn Chychota showing the breakfast choice of my sherpas:
We hosted team Endurance Corner gatherings and enjoyed our friendships. It felt more like our Tucson camp than prepping for Kona!
THE SWIM: This year age group women had a separate start resulting in less contact on the swim. I hope it lessened the temptation of drafting on the bike. There were lots of swells and current this year. The biggest surprise was how warm the water was once you left the spring filled pier area. It was hot enough that I considered ripping off my swim cap! I think I spent most of the race in Kona fantasizing on how to get cool.
How was my clavicle? Good. I lost a bit of strength in my upper body during my convalescence but my swim fitness returned. I ended up middle of the pack out of the water.
The problem with the delayed age group women start is that you feel like one of the last people on the surface of the sun finishing the race. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is in front of you. It gets a touch lonely out there.
By the time you reach some of the aid stations they look violated. Bottles strewn everywhere with volunteers looking hot and ragged. You wouldn’t blame a volunteer if they had a cigarette dangling out of their mouth with a whisky in one hand and a water bottle in the other hand! I learned to always look for the water bottle with condensation. The other bottles were too hot to drink!
My legs felt good, my bike felt great and the wind made every attempt to beat me into submission. At one point I was riding on the course with a head wind that was so strong I had to pedal hard down hill. This was the first time I experienced this headwind on the way out to Hawi. And yes, by the time I made it down Hawi, the wind turned into a head wind almost all the way back to Kona. Meanwhile, the sun and humidity crush your soul. On a positive note, I was not blown off my bike on Hawi. Unfortunately a few folks got tossed.
I didn’t have as strong of a cycling day as I had hoped. Nothing to pinpoint but I never hit the moments in the race where I felt great. I did feel a huge accomplishment when I managed to finish the ride without crashing. A simple and necessary benchmark. Insert big sigh of relief.
I have an incredible sherpa team at my races (KT and David), and I know when I get off the bike immediately how I am racing. If I have raced well, they are super excited and tell me exactly what I need to do to win. If I come off the bike middle of the pack, they are super excited and tell me what I need to do to pick off one of my frequent competitors. Subtle but important difference. David and KT at the fantastic WITSUP Women’s Breakfast:
THE RUN: I dialed in my pace right off the bike and felt good. Scary good. I avoided the illusion and paced the way I knew was necessary. I hit the ice hard and fueled well. I could tell I was picking off people in my age group right out of the gate. Things got hard after the climb up Palani. My legs hurt a bit from the pounding but I kept it rolling. At one point I climbed through 10+ positions and my team told me to keep running hard. Amazed how I can go from planning my sport retirement to smiling as you cross the incredible finish line on Ali’i Drive. I ended up spent and happy.
I need a new race running shoe. Current model discontinued.
I have a vision issue in one eye that has changed and I am having difficulty reading my power meter computer on the bike when I wear my contacts. Need to change computers or placement of the computer.
Spot on again this race. 75g+ carbs per hour on the bike with increased water consumption. 50g+ first two hours of the marathon. Gatorade on course next year will completely change my nutrition plan. I tolerate it well and will be able to give up having bottles in special needs. I am exploring increasing my race caffeine intake. Will experiment with that next year.
Finally, I am not thrilled with my race but I am happy finishing 18th in the world in my age group. I have improved my finishing place each of the last three Kona races.
I learned more about myself this year than the previous six competing. I found out in July what it takes to overcome something unexpected. I found out I can break my body but not my spirit. I found out I have what it takes to dig deep, cry, hurt and move forward. I found out that my family and my friends believe in me enough to make sure I kept believing in myself.
Special thanks to Coach Marilyn Chychota. She had faith and the plan. Her mantra, “Be strong and carry on…” It worked.
I did not have the race I wanted but I did have the race I deserved. It was a great year. Thank you for sharing the journey.
Special thanks to my sponsors for their service and support this season. It takes a village to qualify for Kona. Thank you.