In late July I flew to Kona for a 10-day training camp with our resident Purplepatch bike guru Paul Buick. While there, I was training well, but something was missing for me – particularly on the bike. I was hitting my numbers, but I was lacking that feeling of fluidity and ease that I so often feel when I ride. I noticed it and Paul noticed it too. We were talking one evening after a hard day and he said to me flat out – “I don’t see it in your legs. You’ll know when you are there. It’s not about how lean you are or how fit you are, it’s about being in that place where everything flows. Things are not flowing for you right now”.
I walked away from that camp stronger and more fit, but I knew he was right. Something was missing.
As Matt and I sat down to talk about my Kona prep I knew what I needed. For me on the bike it was about riding on roads where I could pedal endlessly for miles and find rhythm. And it was about having training partners who could push me in just the right ways and at the right times. I was strong and fit, but I lacked rhythm. I asked Matt if I could head down to Santa Monica and do my Kona prep there. I knew the roads well and knew they would be good for me. I had spent 2 years training with Gerry Rodrigues and Tower 26 on the swim and knew Gerry would push me hard in the water. But Matt had another idea. “Kansas” he said. “Kansas?!?!” I asked/exclaimed! Kansas was the last place I would have expected Matt to suggest.
“It is the ideal training place for Kona. It is hot. It is humid. It has rolling terrain similar to Kona. There are no cars. It is windy. And you have 2 great guys who will be perfect to train with.”
The two great guys were Brian Weaver and Mike Malfer – both Purplepatch athletes. Both EXCELLENT elite amateurs. Both getting ready for Ironman races – Mike for Kona; Brian for Ironman Arizona.
After our meeting Matt reached out to both of them and they responded immediately with open arms. Before I knew it I was packing my bags and headed to the Midwest.
And it was PERFECT. For two weeks the three of us lived in our world of a mini-training camp of 3. We pushed each other to new levels across swim bike and run. There were days when each of us wanted to give up or give in, and the other two were there to motivate and inspire. It was hard work. Very hard work. But I cannot imagine two people I would have liked to have done that with more than Brian and Mike. It was an incredible combination and I am extremely grateful to them….and to their wives and families for welcoming me in to their homes and letting us immerse ourselves in the training the way we did.
And…along the way I found my rhythm. I walked away from that camp READY FOR KONA. I was finally back to biking like my old self, I was running better than I ever had before, and I felt I was swimming better than I had for a long time. I came home from Kansas feeling the most prepared I have ever been to race an Ironman. I felt SO prepared and things were working so flawlessly that I was almost anxious – I kept saying to Matt and to Mike (my boyfriend) that I was afraid to lose the momentum and the feeling. They assured me I wouldn’t. Every training session I would head out, tense that maybe it wouldn’t be there that day. And day after day the momentum was still there.
Before I left for Kona Matt and I sat down to talk about my race plan. I expected it would be similar to the other Ironman races I had done this year – try to limit my losses on the swim (always shooting to get out of the water in under 10 minutes behind the leaders), ride the bike like a 70.3 and chase them down on the run. But Matt (and Paul) had a different race strategy in mind. As Matt said – he was taking a risk, betting on my current run form and playing the odds that it would come down to the run, as is typical at this race. If I could run a 3 hour marathon or under, I would do well.
Matt said to me – “the swim is what it is. I don’t care if you come out 5 minutes back, or 10 minutes back (…or 15 minutes as it actually happened to be!!), in this race, you will not chase on the bike”. He said, “Your mantra for the day is TRAIN ALL DAY. I want you to ride strong, but conservatively. I want you to have a consistent ride and with 15 miles to go, no matter where you are or how you feel, you pull back – you ease up on the tension and you start to prepare for the run. You also CANNOT miss a feed or a drink on the bike. That is key. If you are riding with a pack and they skip the aid station, you DO NOT skip the aid station, even if it means losing them. Eating and drinking is paramount.”
“When you get to the run, you do not chase. I run YOUR race. Settle into your pace. TRAIN ALL DAY. Focus on core temperature management. Do not go out too hard. And if you get passed, do not go with them. None of it matters on Ali’i Drive. The only thing that matters is what happens on the Queen K….and really in the last 6-8 miles of the run”.
When I heard the plan, part of me felt anxious about it – to not chase on the bike would be hard as that is my thing – that is what I do. But part of me loved the plan. I’m someone who warms up and finds my flow over 30-40 minutes, so sometimes going hard from the onset can take a toll on me. I felt this strategy could actually play in my favor and set me up better. And I felt so confident about my run I knew running my race would be ok – I didn’t need to run anyone else’s.
Leading into race day I’ve never felt more confident. I truly felt READY and feeling ready is a pretty amazing feeling. I was also nervous. I believed if I biked and ran to my potential, I could run into the top 10. BUT, I also knew that there were 30 women out there who also were able to finish in the top 10. 30 women capable of being in the top 10…only 10 of us can finish there. It was going to be a fight. And a lot of things had to go my way to have that result happen. Being at such a deficit out of the swim, my bike and run HAD to be great, and as with racing – anything can happen.
On race day the gun went off. I had lined up by Heather Jackson and Beth Gerdes – both of whom I believed I could swim with….or at least draft off of long enough to get into the pack and then just hang on. As it turned out, we lined up right, the big pack went left, I have a terrible take out and suddenly I was by myself.
As I exited the water and ran to my bike I saw there were two bikes left on the rack. “Well” I said to myself “I am not last. Just focus on the bike now”.
For those of you who don’t know the Kona course, there is a 5-6 mile out-and-back section that runs through town. It is a great way to see your competitors and where you stand relative to them. As I went out for my loop the lead pack was coming through – by the time I hit the turnaround I realized I was 16 minutes behind! Yikes! Way worse than I had hoped for or expected. But, I just put my head down and committed to the race plan. I repeated to myself “Train all day” and focused on just that. The rest of the ride was easy. I rode conservatively (by way of comparison, my avg HR in an IM is typically around 161-163 and my avg HR in this race was 155), but I was smooth and consistent – just as Matt had asked. And I was passing people. It surprised me, actually, because I thought I would have a much harder time bridging up to the women ahead of me when I was riding a much easier and more conservative ride than normal. And, I figured I would be losing time to the leaders. There was a strong headwind all the way out to Hawi and I rode alone the entire day. Yet when I reached the turnaround I saw my time gap was the same to the front women. HOLY COW! I thought. I started to get excited and part of me wanted to start chasing, but I pulled myself back and went back into my “TRAIN ALL DAY” mode – just steady and consistent. And, as Matt asked (and this was admittedly very hard for me to do) with 15 miles to go I let up and started to prepare for the run. I spun a higher cadence and lower power output, I spent more time out of the saddle loosening my hips and pedaling upright.
Rolling into T2 I have never felt more fresh after a 112 ride than I did at this race. I never hit a low on the bike and my legs didn’t feel smashed. My back didn’t hurt. I just felt fine.
As I left T2 someone yelled to me that I was in either 16th or 17th place. “Perfect” was my thought. I BELIEVED in my run. I knew it was there. I had been running so well, I knew what I needed to do. So I set out. I didn’t have a set pace I wanted to run- I just wanted it to feel easy and fluid. As I started out my watch said I was running 6:40’s – but it felt easy. And that was how I was going to run all day – at a pace that felt easy. Matt and Paul were there just as I began running through town and Matt yelled to me “Don’t chase! You are in a perfect place. Just race your race”.
The one thing I have learned about Kona (having thankfully raced here twice before and gained valuable experience) is that it is SOOOO hot! And if you don’t focus on core temperature management, your day will be over. According to reports, this race was the hottest day Kona had seen for the World Championships in 8 years. It was HOT. And there was little wind in town, which made it that much hotter. For the first 10 miles, despite feeling great overall, I was just managing from aid station to aid station. At every one I stopped, dunked my head into the trash cans filled with ice and water for the sponges. I grabbed sponges. I stopped and had volunteers pour cups and cups and cups of ice down the front and back of me. I drank electrolyte drink, I drank water, I drank coke – I literally did everything in my power to cool myself down. It would last for 4 minutes and by the time I reached the next aid station – roughly 7 minutes after the last one, everything had melted and my core temperature would be rising again. This is how it went. And I didn’t care if that meant losing time. For me, I knew it would play a critical role in how I ran the rest of the race.
The first 10 miles of the marathon are along Ali’i Drive – it is 5 miles out and 5 miles back. The street is LINED with people, the energy is high, and typically most people run too fast. As you come back through town you make a right hand turn onto Palani and run up a ½ mile long STEEP hill, and then make a left out onto the Queen K highway. This is where the race really begins. The next 16 miles you run completely exposed, through the lava fields (which brings the ambient temps up even more) and at a certain point spectators are not allowed, creating an 8 mile period when you are alone.
As I turned onto the Queen K I was in 14th place – having gained only 2 or 3 places in the first 11 miles. But as we hit the turn around to head back to the finish line – with only 8 miles to go, I got a good look at where I was. People were hurting. I was feeling great. There were 4 women definitely within reach. “I can do it!!” I thought. “I can get into the top 10”. Nothing really changed – I just kept my pace and started passing women 1 by 1. 12th, 11th, 10th (!!!), 9th!! 8th!! With 2 miles to go I saw Matt on the side of the road and he yelled to me – “Camilla is 90 seconds up on you and Susie is 2.5 minutes ahead of you. Both are hurting! I NOW GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO RACE!!!”
In my head I thought “What the F, Matt, Have I been doing for the last 9 hours?? Not racing??” But just those words and hearing how close I was helped me find another gear and I went for it. At the top of Palani I passed Camilla Pederson to move into 7th, and ran as hard as I could to catch Susie. I fell short – she finished 40 seconds ahead of me in 6th place.
As I approached the finish line I started to lose it. I was SO emotional. Exactly one year ago I was hardly running. I was still in pain. I didn’t know if I would be able to get back to the form I had been in before I broke my leg. I had put in SO much work and just held on to this belief for so long and suddenly here I was….7TH IN THE WORLD! I felt so proud. So SO proud. So grateful. So humbled. SO thankful. When I crossed the line I pumped my fists, and I broke down into tears. I couldn’t contain it. I was just SO SO proud of that race. When I saw Matt and Paul and my brother and Mike and my mom and Anthony – we all embraced in some of the best hugs I have ever had in my life. It was one of those memories and moments that you will never forget.
In the aftermath of it all, I’ve had this mix of emotions. Part of me is inspired – I think about the minutes to be gained and things we can change and lessons I learned. And it gets me so motivated to go out and work harder for next year. Part of me is scared (!!) – Just because I finished 7th doesn’t mean there are not so many AMAZING women out there who are not equally as capable, if not more so, to have finished that result or better. I just happened to have MY day when others did not. So I feel scared/motivated to get back and not have it be a fluke. Part of me is so proud. Part of me is still a little disbelieving. I’ve had this dream and goal since I started triathlon to be world class and it was realized in Kona….but sometimes it just feels so elusive that when it finally becomes a reality it is a very strange feeling.
But mostly, mostly I am proud.
I need to thank SO many people. I remember a couple of years ago I was at a race that Meredith Kessler won, and in her post race speech she said that while it seems like this is an individual sport, it is not. It is a TEAM that makes all of this happen and we, the athletes, are simply the technicians. And she is right. I have experienced this TEAM more than ever over the last year as so many people have spent time, energy, money and continued to BELIEVE in me and what was possible. This race was a TEAM SUCCESS – the success and win for so many:
- To my coaches – Matt Dixon, Paul Buick and Gerry Rodrigues. The masterminds behind it all. You three know me and have managed my training, my mental state, my goals over the last 5 years with such skill. The PROGRAM is not just about the workouts – it is about creating the workouts that are right for the person, about creating emotional responses that are right for the person. About enabling and educating in the way that is right for the person. You have done all of that and more. PURPLEPATCH has become my family. Thank you so much for all you have done.
- To my “trainers” – Avanzare Chiropractic, Craig McFarlane, Brendon Rearick, Ryan West, Phil Goglia of Performance Fitness Concepts, Jesse Rice of Inspiraling Movement Arts, Kevin Burn from SF Sports Massage, Byron Thomas – You guys have done so much for me – from helping me rehab from my leg, to keeping me on the right nutritional path, to identifying key weaknesses that can help my swim/ride and run, to keeping my body loose and injury free. You all are so pivotal in my training and recovery process – such an important part of my progression over the last year
To my family and friends – This sport requires a level of commitment and dedication which in turns requires a tremendous amount of understanding, patience and giving from all of you. I spend countless number of days on the road, I’ve missed family vacations, I don’t speak with those closest to me as much as I would like, I go to bed and get up early, socializing is minimized. Yet through it all, you all have supported me, loved me and embraced this journey as part of your own. THANK YOU
- And to my sponsors – Cervelo, Shimano, Clif Bar, Saucony, Roka, Rudy Project, Boheme Wines, Scicon, Bear Mattress, PowerTap, CycleOps, WidSix, Corin Frost, JSY Public Relations, Purplepatch, Shift-SF and Polar – I believe wholeheartedly in each of your brands and I am so proud to be part of each of your teams. THANK YOU for believing in me and taking part in this journey.
- To the Purplepatch and Tower 26 communities – I feel so fortunate and lucky to be part of such an amazingly supportive group to people – thank you for being my friend, training partners and family
- Last – but most CERTAINLY not least – THANK YOU to Brian Weaver, Mike Malfer, Jim, Luke, Drake, Bryan and Terri – The Kansas “A” team. You guys were absolutely AMAZING and hugely instrumental in my successful preparation for Kona this year. I cannot thank you enough for your support, for your push during training and for all you have done. I am grateful to you all and hope you will have me back next year!
I am now back to training and getting ready for my final race of the season – Ironman Western Australia on December 6th.
Until next time – don’t dream it. BE IT!