The Ironman World Championships: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
After months of anticipation, these words, which were a constant in the back of my mind and only a dream, actually became REAL. Holy Mackerel!!!
Kona lived up to all of the splendor, glory, pain and suffering that I had anticipated. Several weeks before the race my coach, Matt Dixon, said to me, “If you thought you suffered in Coeur D’Alene, you will suffer 3x worse in Kona.” He was right. No matter my goals or aspirations going into the day, when I crossed the finish line I only felt pride and a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Whether it be the record breaking performances, the incredibly deep amateur field, or those final individuals who willed their way across the finish line minutes before the 17 hour cut off at midnight as huge crowds cheered them on – It was nothing short of a magical day.
After my first Ironman I sent an e-mail to my friends and family with my “Top 10 Best and Worst Moments of the Race”. In keeping with my new found tradition, I thought I would share my best and worst Kona-style:
1. Body Marking
I’m not exactly sure why, but there is something special about being “stamped” with your race number versus magic-markered before a race. A likely afterthought for most, that moment (oddly enough) gave credence to the significance of the race for me. As I stood there in the dark morning hours while two volunteers carefully stamped the number “1716” on my right and left arms a chill went through my body. I thought – “This is it!”. It was my first defining Kona race day moment and one I will remember forever.
2. Don’t Dream It. Be It
I entered the water at Kailua Pier 20 minutes before the cannon and scanned the thousands of spectators for my family. Suddenly, there it was. The sign that was my motto for the race – Don’t Dream It. Be It. I swam over towards the sea wall and waved my arms feverishly hoping my family would see me. They did!! 10 pairs of arms were waving back at me with enthusiasm and pride. I was inspired by the sign and by my family’s love and support. I felt ready to race.
3. A Swim PR
I have been working hard all year with Purplepatch Fitness and Tower 26 to improve my relatively lackluster swim. While I have a LONG way to go, I swam a PR by nearly 2 minutes. It was also the most comfortable and controlled I’ve ever felt in open water. Its baby steps, but I was psyched!
4. The “Plan B” Nutrition Plan
At the 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas my race nutrition was anything but perfect. So, despite the general rule of “not trying anything new in Kona”, we decided to make a few changes to avoid a less-than-ideal encounter with the Queen K. Well…let’s just say I made my mark…15 times over. By mile 18 of the bike I was pretty much emitting a constant stream of vomit. When I reached the turn around in Hawi I got off my bike and had a solid and much needed moment with the side of the road. Gross! I decided to scrap my nutrition plan and for the last half of the bike relied on Clif Bar gels and bloks, Ironman Perform and water to carry me through. I was proud of myself for not panicking and coming up with a Plan B that kept the calories and electrolytes coming in and allowed me to continue following my race strategy.
5. An Affinity For Sponges
I was one hot mess along Ali’i Drive! Between bouts of vom and an over-heating body I was facing my Kona demons head on and early in the run. I knew I needed to get my stomach under control and bring down my core temp if I had any chance of coming back. I stopped at every aid station, grabbed as many ice cold sponges as I could and poured them over my head, then dipped them in the ice water and squeezed again and again. They honestly saved my day!
6. Puke and Rally
Mile 9: I stood there hunched over, hands on both knees doing what seemed to be a theme throughout my day, when along came Beth Walsh. As she cruised by me she yelled “Come on Sarah, Puke and Rally!”. Her comment made me laugh, but also helped motivate me to keep moving forward.
7. …And Rally I Did
By mile 14 I had started to find my stride. When I hit the Energy Lab (mile 16) I felt good and was getting progressively stronger. I ran hard those last 10 miles and it paid off with a 6:56/ mile split and a lot of made up ground. I was proud of myself for staying calm, hanging tough and coming out of the dark side on top.
8. Palani Hill
Running down Palani Hill was the best moment of my short-lived triathlon career. The thrill of the crowds was overwhelming and I opened up my stride and let it rip, pushing hard to gain any time I could all while trying to soak in the moment. I crossed the finish line in 9:51:17 – good enough for 5th Overall Amateur, Top American Amateur and 23rd Overall Female, including the Pros.
9. Wigwam Love
Crossing the finish line in Kona is a great feeling, made better by the cheering and smiles of the Wigwam Mills Inc crew, one of my new sponsors. I’m so pumped to be working with them as they are fantastic people who make fantastic product. Despite pouring what seemed like 5 gallons of water over my head and body, I emerged from the race blister free!!! Amazing, right?
10. A Family Affair
Trying to relay the level of love and support I received from my family and friends leading up to and on race day is difficult. Ironman is a huge endeavor and having my family not just there, but also so enthusiastically sharing in my journey – it honestly MADE MY KONA EXPERIENCE. On race day my family was literally everywhere – on the pier, on Palani Hill, at the turn into Kawaihae, on the Queen K, at the Energy Lab. I was stunned by their efforts to divide and conquer and I feel incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful support system. Thank you so very much Mom, Dad, JM, Vanessa, Lilah, Jeff, Laura, Avery, Teresa, Kirsten, Brian and Cherrie, Greg and Katie Ogin (my Hawaii host family).
Thank you to my coach, Matt Dixon, of Purplepatch Fitness, and Gerry Rodrigues from Tower 26. It has been a wonderful journey so far, and I am looking forward to what is ahead!
Finally a big shout out to Toga Bikes in NYC, and to HSBC, my employer, for their continued support as I take on this crazy adventure.
Until next time.
Don’t Dream It. Be It.