I’m on my way to Kona!

Spectacular…no, that’s not the right word…

Brutal…that’s not it either…

Psychotic…okay, maybe a little…

Brilliant…only after crossing the finish line…

It’s hard to find the right word to sum up my first Ironman race, probably because I felt a multitude of different emotions throughout the 11-hour day. When people tell you it’s a journey, they aren’t kidding. You feel like the star in one of those terrible box-office drama hits where you are dragged through the gamut of emotions from happiness to frustration to anger to depression and back up to happiness all in the span of 2 hours. It is exhausting! Stretch that out to 11 hours and compound that with the fact that you are actually doing rigorous physical activity the entire time – it is a surreal feeling. And then we all cross the finish line, cheering and hugging everyone around us elated because it is over, triumphant because we conquered it, and slightly neurotic because we forget the truly raw and tumultuous struggle we just endured over the last 140.6 miles.

An Ironman race consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and then a 26.2 mile run where each leg is an entire journey all by itself.

A lot of people talk about the nervous jitters they get in the week leading up to their Ironman race, those of uncertainty when it is your first time or those of anxiety for what is about to come and wondering why you are doing this again. Peter and I had so much going on that I forgot the race was even happening. I even had to rush order a new pair of goggles off Amazon because I didn’t realize it was already race week. I never even looked up the course online. Peter and I did ride part of the bike course a few weekends before but other than that, I tried to count the number of buoys in the swim on race morning and had no idea what to expect from the run. And there was absolutely no nervousness. Not even at the swim start while standing in line waiting for the gun to go off. But don’t get me wrong, there were many stressful tears in the weeks leading up to this race. If you are ever thinking about quitting your job and starting as business at the same time your husband quits his job, selling your house, moving to another state, and training for an Ironman all at the same time – I kind of don’t recommend it.

3am arrived on Sunday morning and I ate my cold leftover pancakes with a banana and bowl of oatmeal as we drove about an hour up to Boulder. Everything went very smoothly that morning, no rushing around. We took the shuttle over to the swim start, put our water bottles on our bikes, put on our wetsuits, swam a few warm-up laps, and then got in line at the swim start. It was really that simple.

This is a long race so nobody was pushing their way up to the front or getting ready to sprint as the gun went off, it was the most casual race start I have ever experienced. With a rolling start everyone slowly entered the water whenever they felt ready to get the day started. I was at the front because I wanted to try to latch onto someone’s feet in the fast group. It was a little bit of a struggle at first as I searched for someone I could stick on. But once I found him, it was pretty enjoyable. He led me on a really straight line, right next to each of the buoys and for the first time in my life, I can actually say the swim was the absolute best part of the race. I exited the water in 1:03:53, the 3rd fastest in my age group and 22nd overall female (excuse me, what?!?!).

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Thanks for the fantastic picture Mile High Multisport!

I was ecstatic as I ran into the transition area to get on my bike, I cannot tell you how fantastic it feels to be one of the first out of the water after enduring so many races of being way behind. The bike was pretty hilly with about 4,000 feet of climbing which proved to be pretty tough towards the end. I mostly kept working on eating, drinking, and not going out too hard. It can be challenging because you get out of the water with a bunch of adrenaline and jump on the bike feeling like a million bucks. But, I kept reminding myself of the advice from my coaches – don’t go out too hard because you will start to die at mile 80 and then dearly pay for it on the run. The bike is where the happy-everything-is-amazing part of the movie starts to introduce a little drama. Around mile 50 you start realizing you are only half-way there. The hills are making your legs a little tired, your liquid calories are starting to taste yucky, and your butt really doesn’t want to sit on the bike seat anymore. I was also dealing with a bloody nose, which just gets irritating after a while. And then amnesia kicks in and you stop taking in your calories like you should – this catapults you to a strange level of hangry depression. Like those Snickers commercials with Betty White on the football field. Then you turn a corner and there is Sonja Wieck cheering you on, kindly reminding you to eat and drink. Oh yeah, I forgot about that. I downed some calories and a few minutes later I regained consciousness. (Thank you Sonja!)

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I found that this battle continued for pretty much the rest of the ride. Until towards the end, when we had a nice long downhill stretch and I decided I would rest my legs…and then my eyes…and then I happened to open them and glance at my garmin…38mph! I think I had a mini-heart attack, which pumped enough adrenaline into my system to remain coherent for the rest of the bike. Okay, that was dumb and dangerous, serious lesson learned.

The bike was finally over and the only thing I could think about was getting off that seat. NO MORE BIKE SEAT PLEASE!! There are only so many ways you can shift around on a tiny little bike seat! But I do have to say that my new Ride Blue bike is pretty amazing and I find myself overflowing with thankfulness the more I get to ride it. I finished in 5:33:05, which was a little slower than I wanted but still pretty good and now I was now 2nd in my age group and 17th female overall.

I got off my bike and stayed in my bike shoes because they made you run almost a mile (seriously), barefoot, part of it on a black rubber track, to get your running shoes. It was definitely uncomfortable but not as bad as burning your feet, which I heard a lot of people did. Once again, the drama movie transitioned back to a happy scene with a positive outlook on life. The start of the run was lined with thousands of people, cheering so loudly I felt like a super star. Amazing. Nothing better.

I started off trying to hit my goal mile pace and then a slow and steady uphill came – and continued – on – and on – and on. It felt like being hit by a car, and at this point my survival mode kicked in. I stopped checking my watch for a pace in fear it would destroy me mentally. All of my focus went towards running within a semi-level of comfort, and taking in calories every three miles. I believe it was at mile 4 they were handing out ice-cold towels. This was the most amazing towel…like my Wilson volleyball. I wrapped that towel around my neck and ran the rest of the race with it. It kept me cool, I wiped by face with it, wiped away my third bloody nose with it, and at very aid station I dumped more ice water on it getting a rejuvenating burst of cool.

Oh Wilson!

Oh Wilson!

The other thing that kept me going was dividing the race into 3-mile chunks. I fueled with EFS gel every 3 miles and never looked ahead farther than that. My only goal was to make it to my next feeding. The support on the race course was absolutely phenomenal. The calming and motivating words from Molly Smith, Katy Blakemore, James Sharpe, Max Bierman and many, many more (you guys were all awesome!!) helped jolt me out of the deepest and darkest parts of the dramatic movie and keep me going forward.

Am I even running anymore?

Am I even running anymore?

Then all of a sudden, I had finished my last feeding and I had 2 miles to go! And the culmination of the race lies here, at the end of this marathon, that you started in a state of pure exhaustion and end with a totally depleted out-of-body experience. At mile 26 I saw Peter who was cheering for me / yelling at me (having already finished an hour earlier) and I knew I had made it. Of course the movie is a happy ending where you some how muster up all of this hidden energy, that you couldn’t for the life of you find earlier, and sprint down the chute to the finish.

Amazing, it was absolutely amazing. I completed the marathon in 4:10:25, which was much slower than I had planned, but left me finishing 2nd in my age group and 17th female overall with a time of 10:56:18. I was so happy to finish and I definitively expressed that I never wanted to do that ever again, ever. So, naturally, when I found out I qualified for Kona, I decided to take the slot and race at the Ironman World Championships on October 11th…yes that is only 10 weeks away! So now you know the movie will have a sequel, but it will come full circle back to where all of the craziness started – Hawaii. This is an honor and the chance of a lifetime to qualify for this race; I just could not pass that up.

Sit still Tucker!

Sit still Tucker!

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Until then I will be working to develop my business, striving to keep the house immaculately staged as we try to sell it, packing up my life and heading to California, and somehow continuing to train like crazy. I feel like I just recommended not doing all of these things at once…oh well.

You guys go ahead and do all that...I'll be here if you need me

You guys go ahead and do all that…I’ll be here if you need me

Training in Kona

I have almost caught up on sleep so I am finally coherent enough to sit down and write about the amazing time I had training in Kona last week.  When I boarded the plane early Friday morning, all I had with me was my bike and a back-pack full of workout clothes.  I knew it would be a long 5 days of pure training without distraction and I could not wait.

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About an hour after I landed and dropped my stuff off at the athlete house, we were headed to Kealakekua Bay for our first ocean swim.  It was a picture perfect afternoon in the refreshing, clear, sapphire-blue water.

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I hadn’t been in the ocean in a long time and I almost welcomed the familiar taste of salt water on my tongue.  I was swimming with the fish and the coral and felt at home again in the water.  We used the swim to determine our level of swimming compared to the other athletes at the camp so we could find a swim partner.  I found Kelly and little did we know that this was the start of a swimming bond I will never forget.

Following the swim was a short hour run.  I haven’t felt that great on a run in a long time.  Even though it was rolling hills, I hardly noticed.  This is obviously from training at altitude in Colorado, but you don’t understand the benefits of that training until you have the opportunity to go back down and train at sea level.  I was holding a solid pace and yet my lungs weren’t burning and I was not gasping for air…strange.

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Day 2 of camp was my biggest hurdle and probably the one day I was not really looking forward to. This was the day of our 10k swim from Keauhou Bay to the Kona pier where they hold the Ironman World Championships swim course.  I never doubted that I could complete all 6.2 miles, but I knew it would be painful and extremely long.  Not being the strongest swimmer, I had no idea how long it would take me.  We arrived at Keauhou Bay early Saturday morning and Kelly and I talked strategy while watching the sunrise.

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Every group of swimmers had a kayak escort which was an essential part of completing this swim.  We had Michelle’s husband who is very experienced with this kind of thing and this helped to calm my nerves.  He not only guided us on the most direct route (with my inability to swim in a straight line, I probably would have been out to sea without him) but he carried all of our water and nutrition.

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When Kelly and I started the swim, the conditions were beautiful.  The water was clear and calm, no clouds in the sky, the swim felt like butter.  It was almost effortless to glide through the water, I have never felt so serene.  Kelly and I had agreed to stop every 45 minutes for a water/nutrition break and after our second stop, an hour and a half into the swim, we couldn’t help but boast about how great we felt and how amazing this swim truly was.  We blew through the first 3.5 miles.  Then, very abruptly, the water turned choppy.  I thought maybe a large boat had passed and we were stuck in the waves from its wake but after a few minutes, it did not let up.  I popped up, Kelly stopped to.  The clouds had rolled in, the wind had picked up, and the water was anything but calm.  What happened?!?

The conditions of the last 2.5 miles were exactly the reason I had dreaded this swim in the first place.  I have swam in the ocean in nasty conditions before and it soon becomes a fight to survive.  Turn your head to breathe and get smacked in the face by a wave.  Swallow a bunch of saltwater.  Get sloshed up and down.  Try to swim left but the wave pushes you right.  Feel glimpses of helplessness. My only saving grace was Kelly.  Just seeing her out of the corner of my eye and knowing that she was pushing through the same thing saved my mental state.  She looked so strong, like none of this was affecting her.  I had to stop a couple of times and hang on to the kayak to grab more water and nutrition.  Fighting the waves was starting to take it out of me.  We only had half a mile to go and we could see the finish, but I was struggling to stay positive.  Kelly kept me straight.  She told me I could do it and we could stop as many times as I needed.  She was awesome.  And then we made it, 3 hours 54 minutes.  My arms felt like jello, my tongue like sandpaper.  It was like I had gargled saltwater for the last 4 hours but I still had a sore throat.  But I had finished something that up until this point, I wasn’t actually sure I could do.

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To celebrate, all of the athletes headed over to the Kona Brewing Co. to have a few beers and eat a lot of food.  I was starving.  I took a deep breath, worst part of camp for me was over.

I woke up Sunday morning excited for the long bike ride ahead of us.  We planned a 110 mile ride on the Ironman course and, based on my poor performance there back in June during my half-ironman race, I had a few mental blocks I needed to work through.  I wanted to conquer the climb to Hawi and prove to myself that I am a capable cyclist.  Truthfully, I have been judging and questioning myself as an athlete ever since this bike ride back in June.  This time I had my power meter and a better perspective on how to tackle the gusting cross-winds.

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After 30 miles of relaxed pedaling in the group, we hit the turn-off for Hawi and I immediately got in the zone and took off.  I didn’t tell anyone my plan or give any warning, I just wanted it to be me and the road with no distractions.

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The wind was impressively strong, just as I had remembered, but I dug in and took control.  I kept my focus, maintained my power, and nailed the ride.  Sometimes your biggest enemy is your own sub-conscious and I can now happily say I left that enemy in Hawi.

At mile 80 I learned an important lesson about myself.  My coach and I were drilling it back down the Kamehameha Highway into a fierce headwind.  We were each taking 3 minute pulls and it was getting to the point where my 3 minutes of drafting was not giving me any rest.  I was dying and I could not keep the pace any longer. I had nothing left in the tank.  We backed off and she immediately told me to eat something.  Wow, I hadn’t eaten in a while, it was something I was not paying attention to.  After a little while of taking it easy and eating I felt my pep come back and my strength rejuvenate.   It was amazing!  Keeping up on calorie intake is so essential and now I understand the consequences of forgetting that key part.  I ended the ride feeling strong, even though I had gone very hard for the majority of it.

Monday consisted of 70 more miles on my bike seat, something that was extremely painful to be on at this point.  After Monday, all I wanted to do was pack up my bike, put it on the plane, and then maybe not unpack it for another week.

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Like a whirlwind, the last day of camp came and I couldn’t believe it was almost over.  I was secretly looking forward to this day all week and not because it was the last day but because it was the long run day! I was so excited to do a long run back in Hawaii considering how painful my long runs have been in Colorado.  I was craving a flat road at sea level.  I woke up Tuesday morning to an uncharged Garmin watch and my mood turned sour.  I had a goal pace that I wanted to hit on the run and now I would have no way of tracking that.  My coach, on the other hand, was ecstatic that I had no watch.  In a desperate attempt to give it a little juice, I left it charging with one of the girls who was leaving the house a little later than us, hoping she could bring it to the run.  I later found out that my coach intercepted my devious plan and I was seriously going to run 15 miles with no gadgets, no headphones, no music.  Very organic I guess.

I had three pivotal learning experiences during this training camp.  The first happened during my push through the final 2 miles of the swim, the second happened at mile 80 on the bike, and the third happened in the last 7 miles of this run.  I had gone out at what felt like a great pace and by the turn-around point, I felt like picking it up and really pushing it on the way home.  I was keenly aware of my body and the feel of my legs, I had no distractions.  I thoroughly enjoyed running along Ali’i drive and even though I don’t know exactly what pace I was going, it felt fast and fluid.  I have never felt so satisfied after a run, this was one of the top 5 runs I have ever had.  I finally finished a run putting in an amount of effort based strictly off of how I felt and not influenced by a time, a heart rate, or a pace.

We all finished up, showered at the beach park, and headed out for celebration burgers and beers.

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I met some amazing people on this trip and have new friends that I can now keep up with and follow their crazy training and racing lives.

And then I got on the plane a few hours later and headed back on a red-eye flight.  Of course I pulled my least favorite stunt of getting off the airplane and heading directly to work.  Thankfully I wore a long skirt to hide these bad boys.