Every athlete has felt it, the constant pull of thoughts edging into your psyche with either positive or negative mental feedback that makes up the countless hours between race start and the finish line. It actually starts long before we step up to the line. How do we view the race situation? Are we intimidated by the competition? How do we deal with the fear of failure? How do we frame this race or experience in the context of our life and training to date?
Athletes are either motivated by success or by the avoidance of failure. My coach Jesse K. with QT2 Systems has written a number of articles on the subject describing the MAS athletes vs. the MAF athlete. The reality is that most of us are a combination of these two (although we tend to favor one or the other).
As the race in New Orleans drew closer, there were a couple of things on my mind. One, I felt the field was going to be very evenly matched with only one or two stand out athletes that I knew would be in the top 5. Two, I felt that if everything went right, I might have a good day and be able to really compete within the top ten / top seven of this group and it may help push me to a new level (always the goal to make personal progress vs. focus on place etc.). Third, I really wanted to put together a good run. For years, at the half ironman distance, my run has hovered between 1:28-1:31 for 13.1 miles. I KNEW in my HEART of HEARTS that a better run was in there, but I hadn’t yet been able to crack it. It always seemed to elude me. As a runner by background and nature, this has been a source of frustration over my 14+ attempts at this distance. My coach knew something I didn’t. Even though he hadn’t said it, looking back, I’m quite sure he knew we were right on the verge of something big in the run department.
Standing on the starting line with 15+ pro women never gets any easier, but I’ve grown to feel a bit more like I belong in the last few races.
The goal, get on feet and make this crazy “N” shaped harbor course go by quickly by being with the right group. There were lots of turns and it wasn’t going to be easy to navigate, especially if you were on your own. The water had picked up some significant chop in the morning due to the wind. At 64 degrees, we were wet-suit legal and when the gun went off it was the usual swim as hard as you can until you think you might die strategy trying to make a pack.
Unfortunately, even with that strategy, I somehow came out separated by just a few yards and trust me, once they gap you, that is all it takes for those women to get away together and leave you stuck in no man’s land for the rest of 1.2 miles. About 30 yards back, for the next 30 minutes, that’s where I got to brave the chop and turns all on my own.
My mind played tricks on me during the entire swim and tried to get me to count myself out before the day had even begun. Negative thoughts swirled, “you’re not swimming well, might as well give up now”, “the pack is moving farther away, you’ll never catch them”, “you’re drinking half the lake, this could cause issues later on the bike!” I counteracted them the best I could with things I knew to say to myself when the going gets tough. The mental battle seemed to go on for a loonng time until finally a swim exit was in sight. Six girls got out only 40 seconds ahead of me and I tried not to look back, only ahead.
Onto the bike, I was optimistic that even on a windy day; I could lay down some solid power numbers and have a good experience. I came out of T1 with my good friend Jocelyn and one other pro women. We spaced out appropriately and begun hammering away. Within minutes, I knew I was going come face to face with a decision I made a day or so ago about my bike. On my training ride, I heard something making a small rubbing noise near the back wheel against my 808’s. Beth and I were staying together at the same home stay and we both had taken a close look at the rear wheel trying to figure out where the noise I heard was coming from. We worked together to make sure it was lined up and in the end, I felt confident that I had fixed the issue. Yeah, unfortunately, not so much. Now, for the next 56 miles, I would hear that rubbing noise with every pedal stroke and wonder if I should pull over and take a look, deflate my tire a bit in hopes it not touching the break or just deal with it and give up a bit of time / watts. Into a fairly consistent headwind for the first 28 miles, I battled two nemesis, my questioning mind, and my power meter, who again (just like San Juan) seemed to not be calibrated right and was giving me much lower readings than anticipated.
I decided to press on and try not to worry about the rubbing noise, knowing that friction will always work against you. I had to learn my lesion that a choice I made and would now have to live with for not taking it to a mechanic to guarantee everything was a-ok. My mind continued to create excuses, “You have this brake issue”, “Your power meter isn’t even reading correctly, it’s ok to back off” and you either listen or you counteract those thoughts. I’d talk to myself about the amazing women in my sport who had overcome insane challenges from my good friends and teammates Jacqui Gordon and Jessie Donovan who had mechanical issues and other things go wrong at Ironman Los Cabos, to my other good friend Jennifer Lentzke, who lost her goggles in the swim at Ironman South Africa and swam the entire second loop of an Ironman without them, swallowed a bunch of water and then couldn’t hold any calories in for the rest of day and STILL finished. These ladies were tough (ridiculously tough). If they could handle it, what was a little break rubbing going to do to ruin my day? Was I really going to let that be the excuse?? “Seriously Kim, get a grip, this is small potatoes”, I told myself!
When we made the turn around at 25 miles I started feeling a bit better about my situation and decided it was time to put a few presses on and see if I could turn this bike around. My nutrition was spot on with three 24oz bottles of Powerbar Perform on my bike and caffeinated berry Powerbar gels in my Fuelbelt holder every 40 minutes. The rest of the bike I started feeling like I was closer to the girls in front of me than I thought and I even passed one or two so maybe things would be just fine after all. The tailwinds / crosswinds were helping my mood and before I knew it, even though my bike time wouldn’t be spectacular, I was nearing the end of the 56 mile bike. “Thank heavens!” I thought; “no more listen to that dang noise”!
In T2, I slipped on my race number, socks and shoes, grabbed my hat and headed out optimistic about the one final leg of my journey that I had been wishing and wanting so badly to go right! I had instructions to take pace off my watch for this particular run and go by heart rate only. Coach Jesse said it was imperative I really trust him on this one and take it one mile at a time. If there is one thing I believe, it’s that my coach knows what he’s doing, so I set off to execute the best run I could and see where it landed me. Letting go of certain times or places was freeing and knowing that (hopefully) nothing else major could go wrong to trip me up I felt a weight was lifted off my shoulders! Within a mile, even though I didn’t feel amazing, my legs were there, my breathing was steady. I could feel the potential of a decent run building with each stride length. “Stay the course”, I told myself. I only let myself look down to check heart rate and I did catch my very FIRST mile split, 5:57. Instead of freaking out, I decided I would not look down at any cost when that watch beeped every mile with the last mile’s split. Heart rate would rein supreme for the next 12 miles to the finish. During an out and back section, I could see who was ahead and surprisingly, there were a few girls within a minute or two. Despite a not fantastic bike, I was still in this thing! I steadily made my way ticking off the miles and singing to myself a little Jay-Z (on to the next one…on to the next one). The beat of the song kept my cadence high and as the run went on I felt stronger and stronger. The pace “felt” fast, but really, I had no idea. Coke, gels, and water at aid stations from the awesome volunteers were life saver. At one point when I missed what I wanted, one actually ran it up next to me to hand me the water! I told him “he rocked!!” just before he probably almost passed out from exertion. Thank you whomever you are!
The run course weaves through town and you never knew quite what was coming next. A few bridges provided some terrain changes but the course was essentially flat and the weather was a perfect 70 degrees (ideal for me as a VERY heavy sweater).
As I approached mile 10, I caught a glimpse of another runner ahead, maybe 3 minutes up the road in black. My effort was high, but bearable. After reports of being in 5th, I was pretty pleased about moving up, but what if 4th was really within my reach??! Steady Kim, Steady. Following the plan was paramount and I was not blowing this run now. Within the final miles I kept gaining until I could even see ANOTHER runner ahead of 4th. Oh how I wished we had a bit more time! I was making up ground, but not fast enough. The last mile seemed to go on forever until we reached the French Quarter and made the turn to the finish. My arms were pumping and I finally took a look at my watch when it beeped my final mile – 6:14. “Now that is a good sign” I thought. Smiling at the finish I knew I was most proud of the mental battles I had fought, and often won, to get myself to put together the best race I could with the circumstances I was dealt on that day. I had done my best. Finally, I looked down at my watch’s final time…it said 1:21 and I had been stopped for a bit and walking. REALLY??!! Could it BE!!! I couldn’t believe it OR COULD I??! Did I really just PR by almost 8 minutes??!! At the results stand they printed my time slip and there it was in plain sight – 1:20:57. There was no choice but to jump around, scream and high five the volunteers at the tent. They thought I was completely mad –and it was AWESOME. Needless to say, I was pretty dang excited!
One day it's all going to come together at the same time! Until then, I'll just keep chipping away at it and making progress!
The Pittsburgh contingent at this race was huge so it was great to see Chad, Bruce, Jenn, Matt, Kristin, Jocelyn, Jeremy and Beth at the finish and share war stories. There were no perfect days among our group, but one thing was clear - we all made due and did our best.
I was so proud of each one of them, especially Jocelyn who put together a solid swim and bike and fought her way though not feeling good on the run and also Beth who had serious nausea on the run and never stop pushing to the finish.
Those girls are warriors and continually impress me!
Our home stay family – Dave & Angele
Wonderful people who took us in and made us feel right at home! They treated us so well and even ran us around to all of the pre-race meetings and events. Their hospitality was wonderful and we had a lovely dinner to end our time in New Orleans.
Getting to see my good friends Heidi and Scott for 2.2 seconds after the race!
I miss them dearly and after Heidi’s move to New Orleans. They both swam on relay teams so they were part of the day as well and it was so nice to chat for a second.
Getting to support my awesome sponsors and sharing the word about their products (not pictured - Rudy Project & Top Gear Bicycle Shop)
Standing on stage at a real ironman race, a first for me, and sharing it with some pretty incredible fast women. Congrats to all of the competitors that day and to Haley the champion of the day in only her SECOND professional race! Way to go lady!
Seeing my teammate Jacqui for the first time since camp and doing a little cool down run with her that neither of us wanted to do… but did anyway!! QT2 style!!
Calling my coach, Jesse, and sharing the good news about my run split…he really did know all along it was in there. So thankful that he was able to bring it out!
Calling Kyle after and sharing my day with him… I think about what he would say a lot out there and how he’s proud of me no matter what happens. It’s a very good feeling.
Being thankful for the experience, never giving up and always cherishing the gift I’ve been given to get scrape together funds and race some of the best women in our sport. Doing what I love all day and testing my limits! Always a good time!
Thank you to all of you who watch, cheer, pray, believe and never stop support me no matter what happens in the actual race. I'm very grateful that you are a part of my life.
Until next time.. never stop dreaming!