Sunday, October 20, 2013

All In: Ironman World Championships 2013

You dream about it, visualize it, and pray about it.  It’s like a constantly playing song that you can’t get out of your mind in those final weeks.  It’s your perfect race.  You do everything you can to prepare for it.  You stay out of the sun, eat the right foods, sleep 8+ hours a night, stay hydrated, check and double check your equipment.  Countless hours of preparation, that have nothing to do with training, are put together day after day while you attempt to set yourself up for the big day. 

Don’t let me lead you astray, especially in Ironman, “perfect” is a relative term.  As I tell my athletes, “There’s only one thing, and one thing only that I can guarantee about your Ironman, something WILL go wrong and you WILL have to mentally address it and strategize how to turn it around to the best of your ability.”  If you have only one thing go astray, well, my friends, that’s a pretty perfect day, in my opinion.  More often than not, it’s a series of things that must be addressed.  Hopefully. these things are spaced apart in relatively longer intervals.  Each will require your attention to detail, a clear head and positive attitude.  You control what you can control, the rest, you let go.
Sometimes, we are lucky enough to have very few issues or problems arise.  Then at times, due to sheer luck and/or our own decision making, we have many more issues to address.  The tougher the conditions, the more likely it is that we will face multiple issues and closer together in time and this will be require you to address them fairly flawlessly to come out on top.  Ironman Hawaii is one of the harshest race environments on the planet and it is less than forgiving.  I knew that going in, and it was confirmed once again as I ran past two male pro competitors walking in the other direction on the Queen K.  One was last year’s Ironman World Champion, the other, I had just seen win Ironman Tremblant five weeks before. 

I came into this race knowing that I was one of the last qualifiers, but that on race day, truly, anything was possible.  In my heart, I knew that I belonged with these girls and that my training and mental preparation were spot on to have an exceptional day if I was able to execute well and deal with adversity.  Most of all, I wanted to have the day that I knew I was capable of producing on this course on this day.  Whether I placed 35th or 12th really wasn’t the point.  I knew what I could do, and I wanted to be able to show my fitness, particularly on the run, and not be limited by the other factors that so often take Ironman dreams and crumble them to pieces before your very eyes.

Walking into crystal clear water at day-break with hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the pier, was an experience like no other.  Mike Riley’s voice echoed over the loud speaker and as I looked around, Ironman Champions and cameramen circled us in a frenzy for their shot.  It was one of my most memorable moments from this race.  Standing in that water was somewhere I could have never imagined when I stated this journey eight years ago, not even able to swim 25 yards without stopping. As surreal as it was, it also felt like I had prepared my entire life to be in this particular moment.  The dream was becoming a reality right before my eyes.  It was time to do work and I was ready to take on whatever was thrown at me over the course of the next ten hours.

I felt laser focused, undeterred by the crowds' roars, but still soaked in the moment with every molecule of my being.  It wasn’t long before we were lining up waiting for the cannon.  The whole crew was there, the best in the world, well, and me! 


The cannon sounded and I knew the next five minutes would be some of the most critical of the race.  Think of swimming as hard as you possibly can, then think about swimming it even harder, that’s how hard I was trying to go out, as I knew once these girls were gone, they were G-O-N-E! Within two minutes, they were opening up a space in front of me.  “GO GO GO KIM,” I told myself,  “Make this HAPPEN!!” but to no avail.  I looked over and another female was alongside me and the group in front was only 20 yards away, but that was light years in the triathlon world with this caliber of athletes.  It was time to swim as hard as I could and see what the next move would be and from whom.

I waited to see if there was a group forming around me, but the answer was "no".  The girl who was beside me dropped back.  I kept going hard.  No one pulled alongside or in front.  “That was it!” I thought.  I was going to have to pull the group behind me unless someone came by and I could jump on.  The strange part was after a few more minutes, I couldn’t even feel anyone on my feet or hear anything so it didn’t seem like they were that close.  There was no reason to turn around.  I had a paddle boarder in front of me and one alongside (a first for me and pretty cool!) and I just tried to pretend I was leading the race and I’d need to keep sighting well and putting in a super solid effort to the turnaround.  The time to the turn around went fairly quickly and I did NOT check my watch at the halfway point.  I made the turn around seamlessly at the boat and kept the pressure on.  I could see a few girls behind me but not extremely close.  Time to keep pushing! The rest of the swim did seem to take awhile, but again, having my own personal swim team made it feel a little less lonely and helped me stay right on the buoy line which was something Coach Jesse and I had discussed prior to the race.  I FELT like I was swimming well, but who knew! When I finally started getting near the pier, I could see the crowds lining the edge and I heard the voice of Mike Riley once again calling out swim finishers.  I knew this was the final push!  “GET IN THERE!!” I told myself!  It was a long day ahead, but the swim wouldn’t be where I would spend my time fretting, good or not so good! I have to say, I was pretty surprised to see 1:06 when I crossed the mat (and not in a GOOD way), but I quickly put it out of my mind and moved on!

Swim Time: 1:06

Through the showers quickly and into the change tent, girls were flying by me that had just come out of the water as well.  I took the time to put on sunscreen as I knew that was a make or break for the long day ahead! The two girls beat me out of T1 and onto the bike.  Before I knew it, we were all headed up the hill and out onto Kuakini Hwy, the short 10 mile section to the turn around.  I could hear people cheering for me and I couldn't help smiling!  It was going to be a great day!

I had a power goal that was above my normal Ironman goal for the first 15-20 miles.  My mind was working hard toward that goal, watching my numbers rise, but I began feeling the familiar tight hurting squeeze of my quads.  I didn't have this issue at Mt. Tremblant, but it was definitely back today.  It was most likely due to my massive kicking during the non-wetsuit swim.  I tried and tried to push, but the legs just weren’t very interested in cooperating with my request!  

This was also the time to start downing bottles to meet my extremely high sweat rate.  The challenge: to get through 60oz in that first hour.  The result: 54oz (close!).  With the high heat and humidity I knew this would be key!  

Coming up Palani, I heard Kyle’s voice and I felt so excited about the day ahead, like anything was possible. I heard cheers for Jennie as well, so I knew she was close which actually gave me a great source of comfort!  We’d been close all season so, hey, it was a good sign!

Out onto the Queen K, I kept pushing and honestly nothing very exciting happened the whole way to Hawi!  I was making my watts and really focused on drinking as much as humanly possible.  Once I hit the two hour mark and still didn’t have to “go,” I started to get a little worried.
It wasn’t even an issue in Ironman Texas to at least start feeling the urge by this point of the bike, but here, it seemed to be a different story! I let my watts climb a bit as we ascended the hills to Hawi and I saw Kyle and Coach Jesse which lifted my spirits. 

I felt right on track (except for the hydration).  I started seeing glimpses of another female ahead and the male age-group men were already starting to become thicker as we headed to the turn around at approximately the 60 mile mark at Hawi.  We came circling around and I knew the special needs aid station would be shortly after where I had three more frozen bottles waiting.  I hated to stop as the other athlete and Jennie were right there in front and behind at legal distance, but I had to stick to my plan.  I stopped and when a volunteer handed me my bottle, it slipped directly out of my hand from the condensation. I reached down to grab it and the liquid poured from a hole that had punctured the bottom. Ugh! That bottle was useless.  I loaded up the rest and headed out.
Photo: Eric Willis

The girls were gone and were replaced by tons of age-group men who started flying by me down Hawi in very close quarters.  We were approaching the three hour mark quickly and I was starting to get REALLY worried that I hadn’t peed yet.  This wasn’t a good sign and I knew it.  After a few minutes of trying to go, I pulled over, like a total rookie, and just went right there standing on my bike.  Sometimes it needs to be done! The good news was that I had to go, but it was definitely a little late.  My chances of finding those other ladies again were nil to none at this point.

My spirits dropped a little and then even a little further as the packs of men started coming faster and I continued to back off every time a group passed, not wanting to be caught up in their bad decisions.  I couldn’t believe how many there were and it only worsened when we started heading back toward town for the last 25 miles.  

Yep, lots of bikers, small space for all of us

With every group, my power dropped a little further and I started feeling more disheartened.  I just didn’t understand!  This was a World Championship!!  What were they doing!! One guy even pulled up next to me and asked if I knew there was a “bike race” on the island today because there was so much drafting.  Every time I’d leave the appropriate distance, another man would come up alongside and just jump right in the space.  I would sit up and we would repeat this over twenty or thirty times until I made it back to town.  

During this low point, my usual upbeat, optimistic self was hard to find.  I was usually building momentum during this time, but my power numbers showed a totally different story.  I stopped drinking as much as I should have due to my lack of focus and disheartenment.  I replaced the bottle I lost with Perform from the aid station, but had a hard time drinking it because it just seemed different than my own mix.  I upped my gel levels to cover the calories and sodium I’d lost, but I knew I wasn’t doing a spectacular job.  There were no women in sight until I finally saw a glimpse of Haley and the other rider from earlier that day.  "Get to Haley," I told myself, maybe we can stay within sight of one another and turn this ride around!  We were both fighting that headwind so hard.  At times it seemed like I was going backward. The last miles were a blur of trying to stave off the negative thoughts and keep my head in the game when I was just feeling rather depleted and a bit out of it.  I made it in, but the numbers were not pretty those last 30 miles and I knew I had lost some time. 

Bike Time: 5:15

When I hit T2, I gave myself a serious pep-talk.  The run is where I shine and it was time to get back to myself!  Sunscreen on, gels in hand, I was ready to tackle this next chunk! Within about two minutes, I knew was in trouble.  “Houston, we have a problem, I can’t feel my feet;” my brain saying on high-alert! With every step, I could feel pins and needles, but no actual feet.  Yikes!  This was definitely new and I spent the next 10 miles on Alli drive trying to troubleshoot what was going on.  My heart rate was fairly in the tank and I couldn’t seem to simulate it which usually signifies a calorie-deficit.  I used every aid station to try and get in everything possible via Powerbar Perform, bananas and I took my own nutrition that I was carrying with me, in much shorter intervals.  That didn’t help that it seemed like everything around me was happening in slow motion.  I was trying to focus, but I felt dizzy and sort of like my body wasn’t attached to my brain.  This was not the way I was used to feeling on the run.  People passed me like I was standing still!  I spent time trying to monitor my thoughts.  At times, bringing my thoughts around to find something positive was all but impossible.  I heard cheers, but I couldn’t even look over to see who was calling my name.  If it was anyone reading this blog was cheering during that time I am TRULY sorry I couldn’t acknowledge you.  I was in crisis mode! Coach Jesse and Tim Snow were there trying to help me access the damage, but I couldn’t tell them about my weird feet issue.  That first ten miles I spent praying and thinking about Christina and how I’d promised that I would do my best, no matter what.  Over and over, I asked myself if I was doing my best, and the answer, over and over at THAT moment was that I really was doing my best with what I had to work with. 

It was time to gut it out up Palini.  Just when I was feeling at my lowest, there was Kyle.  I could see his face and I knew I was grimacing pretty hard, but still moving slowly but surely up the hill.  His words were clear and the only thing I heard was: “This is what you came here for Kim!  Girls are walking, girls are dropping out just ahead of you!! You have the fitness to do this!  Make it happen!!”  As much as part of me just wanted someone to tackle me so I could finally lay down on the side of the course, I knew he was right.  I came here to suffer.  So, the day wasn’t going like I wanted, was that a good excuse to just give up here at mile 11 of the marathon?? My heart rate started climbing for the first time to numbers that I recognized and my feet were coming around.  I still felt pretty darn awful, but hey, maybe I could still go all in with the rest of this race and feel good about giving it every last drop.  Up onto the Queen K, I started quickening my stride, I pulled my shoulders back and put my chest out.  

My hands clenched tightly, nails digging into my palms.  There was only one way to turn this around and it was going to hurt like a mother.  It was time to do this, for Christina, for Kyle and all the sacrifices he’s made this year, for my family, for my friends watching, for my coach, Jesse, who believed in me.  I wasn’t going down without a fight and I was going to do it every single step to the finish.  Not once did I look at my mile splits or cumulative time.  I decided it didn’t matter anymore.  It was now me against me.  I passed Pete Jacobs and Luke Bell among other professionals walking and I realized that if I was still running that was actually a plus.  Up ahead, I started seeing glimpses of a few other girls and I used that as motivation to keep ticking away.  We encouraged each other because, at this point, we are all very aware of the stats.  None of us at this stage of the race cared about points or money, medals or places.  We were out there digging because it was about honoring the race, our competitors and finishing what we started.  

Down into the Energy Lab, I kept ticking away the miles and putting down as much nutrition as I could.  I saw Jessie and Jennie and it uplifted my spirits to see them fighting so hard.  I never felt an unbearable amount of heat, but we were really lucky with the cloud cover that rolled in around 2 pm.  It was lonely down there, but I was now picking off some of the people that had run me down earlier in the race. 

Up and out of the energy lab, there was just a 10k to go.  I was all about "one mile at a time". My legs were now screaming like someone was beating them with a hammer with every step and I could feel the bottoms of my feet (plantar facia) with every step.  It wasn’t pretty, but I was doing it!  Mentally, I dug deep into the well and counted every single mile until we finally made the turn down Palani.  Even as my quads screamed, I felt a wave of relief come over me.  I was going to make it to the finish line.  As crazy as it sounds, I seriously wondered if I would during that first ten miles.  After that, it was just about managing the pain and not bursting into tears.  I was emotional for many reasons and I couldn’t help it.  It was a long hard day that I had managed to hold together by the skin of my teeth at times.  I felt empty, like I had used every last bit of physical and emotional energy to power through.  I also felt full of gratefulness to my body that it even did remotely what I had asked when it was in some really bad spots.  The feelings of thankfulness overwhelmed me.  I was so very thankful to have Kyle there through this journey and to all the people who never give up on me.  It started welling up inside me at the same time and spilling out in ways I couldn’t control.  I wish I could put it into words, but it was like I had been wrung out and there was nothing left but raw, unadulterated emotion left.  Somehow, some way, God had pulled me out of the deep hole I was digging and allowed me to finish this thing which was really important to me.

I could start to hear the crowd noise building and the lights were just up ahead.  It was time to get over that line and get some help as I knew my body was all but shutting down.  Lights, elation, emotion, cheers, crying and just like that I fell into the arms of the volunteers.  It was finished.  We did it, all of us, we did it! 

Run Time: 3:17

Total time 9:45, 22nd female professional 

In the end, it wasn’t the day I had imagined or planned, nor was it “perfect” by any stretch, but I believe it was still the day I was supposed to have.  In the future, maybe I will find out why.  Also, I may not, but it will honestly go down as one of my most memorable race days of all time because I will never forget going ALL IN over those last 13 miles and that you CAN come back even when you’re standing on the cliff ready to jump off and just give up.  It’s possible to bring things around with support, belief and a faith.  Never forget that my friends! 

A part of me still wishes we could have seen that fitness I built pay off, but maybe I needed this day more than I needed to have some place or times that reflected that.  I KNEW what I could do. My coach, my husband and my close friends & teammates also know it and so does my Maker and maybe he’ll let me show that again, someday if it’s His will.

Lessons that need to be learned from this race are still to be determined.  I'm optimistic that with the help of my coach, we will determine the exact causes of  the hydration / electrolyte imbalance that occurred toward the end of the bike and then continued to plague me on the run and prevent this from happening in the futrue.  I also have some mental work to do so that I don't let the outside factors, such as drafting, impact my emotions and race as much as they did.  This is on ME and I need to prepare for this area just like I prepare for everything else. 

In the meantime, it’s been a spectacular season of learning and growing that I don’t regret for a second.  I honestly, wouldn’t change a thing! 

There are so many people to thank, so I’m going to do that in separate post, but just know that I don’t take any of the support, prayers, thoughts or messages lightly!  In fact, I’m thinking of a cool way to commemorate all of them together in a craft project!  More on this to come!

Thanks to my awesome MOM who helped edit this blog! 

Thanks for following my journey!  This year was quite a ride!!  It’s now time for the off-season and spending time with those who have done so much for me (like my amazing husband for starters!).  Don’t worry, I’ll be back in 2014 and maybe even get another crack at this nut in Kona! I sure hope so!!


Steve said...

A 3:17 long death march for a Marathon?? Seems pretty good to me. You put a lot of thought into life and stuff. I like that. It is good for you.

Hope you both enjoy the off season, and just think, 5 hour trainer rides cannot be too far off in the distant future. :) yay. ;)

millerb said...

Great report and great race, Kim! I'm always amazed at how you all can gut it out like that over 140.6 miles. I have a feeling you'll get other chances at Kona! Recover well!

millerb said...

Great report and great race, Kim! I know things didn't go your way but the fact that you were able to finish says a lot! I have a feeling you'll be back for revenge in 2014!

Ange said...

9:45 at Kona. Just awesome! I think you are amazing and so incredibly inspiring. I've really loved watching you since you started this Pro journey. I'm envious of your opportunity to do all this and with such an incredible Coach / team. A very similar thing happened to me in TX with the strange numbness/ tingling. Only I had it in my hands so it wasn't as strange at first. ( unlike Stepping on your feet!! ugh!) Mine moved to my face/ slurred speech etc... not so good. I think electrolyte imbalance too but ...if you come upon a revelation with it please share! I think CA and potassium were messed up... REST up and HUGE HUGE Congrats to you!!!!

Stacy said...

Congratus! Loved following your journey this year and can't wait to see what is in store for you. You are definitely an inspiration!