Monday, March 31, 2014

Ironman Melbourne - What Would You Do?

We're going to do this two ways.  The first is for the people like my husband who thinking reading anything more than three paragraphs about a race is way too much.  He wants the easy information and he wants the pictures to skim.  For him, and people like him, I give you the "DOWN & DIRTY" race report.  

In my mind, I also have the other crowd.  You know who you are.  You're the die hards.  You're like me.  You want the gritty details of what was going on in your mind or the blister that was ripping off your foot at mile ten.  You would be disappointed if there weren't a few gory details and come on, three pages isn't THAT long to read about racing. 

SO, I think I've got both of you covered below.  If you want pictures, skim the FULL BLOWN version.  I'll have plenty more pictures coming with the "we went to Australia and loved it" post to come!  Either way, I hope you enjoy the day!  Thanks for sharing it with me! 


I came into Melbourne feeling excited and ready to gauge where I was early in the 2014 season.  Magic 8 ball signs were pointing to “GOOD” after a tough three weeks at camp and a little recovery.  Although I felt ready for a great swim, dolphin diving into the sand doesn’t seem to help a girl get on the right set of feet.  By the time I had regained my composure, the swimmers I was hoping to dine with had already had a main course and were on dessert (aka they were gooonnne).  I wished them a nice 2.4 mile swim and got on with it.  The rest of the swim I had some feet and pulled a bit, but all in all, felt it was probably too easy but I also didn’t want to go it alone.  With a 1:03 for the 2.4 miles, I wasn’t last, but close. 

Out onto the bike I was remaining positive, as there was hopefully only one way to go from here!  The power numbers were coming along nicely right away and I was downing bottles right on schedule.  The roads were smooth and I wasn’t worried about anything other than meeting my plan.  It was a fast bike on the way to the 28 mile turn around, and not quite so fast with some wind on the way back.  Seeing Kyle was a treat and most of the time when I wasn’t scowling at the age-group men for drafting, I was smiling. All was right with the world!  The last 28 miles I was ready to get off my bike, but that’s normal.  I was hoping to break five hours, but you have to pee on your bike to do that and I still seem to have trouble with that at times.  As my husband would say “so not pro Kim!”

Onto the run, the weather was a balmy 68 degrees and cloudy.  My legs felt pretty fresh and I was well hydrated and fueled.  Unfortunately, I had some “I can’t feel my feet” issues reminiscent of Kona again, but I solved them with "consume mass quantities of bananas in a relatively short time period" methodology.  The miles were clicking away and the reports started that I was in 6th around mile seven which was good news!   

Once I heard there may be a lead biker in my future, I set my sights on fifth! The pass was made at mile ten and in the words of The Grateful Dead; I “kept truckin on”.  The middle miles are tough, but seeing my friends, homestay family and husband gave me courage to keep digging and the reports were coming in that I might be able to bridge the gap to 4th. I put my time in and eventually reeled it in!  The final miles were spent arguing with myself about what I had left, but hearing my husband yell “BEAST MODE” seemed to put the nail in the coffin to try for 3rd.  Once I made the pass, I hoped I was home free and that my legs would actually carry me to the finish.  The rest of the way I just flew on cloud 9!  The finish of this race course is spectacular.  One I would recommend to anyone!


What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?  How would it change your dreams and choices?  What if the actual definition of failure was totally different and instead “failing” just meant staying on the sidelines, not putting yourself out there or taking no action. 

I’d like to think most of us would do things differently.  I think our hearts and minds would be open to all kinds of new endeavors and hobbies.  Our vocation might even be in another area.  There would probably be more artists, public speakers, or even professional triathletes. 

No one knows how their story will unfold when they step off the ledge.  When we make the decision to leave our current position and become an entrepreneur or even to have a child there are no guarantees.  We do it with the belief and hope that the path will be rewarding, that the long hours of blood sweat and tears will result in something we can look back on and say “it was worth it”.  

One of the awesome cards I got pre-race from some of the school kids I spoke with a few months prior showing me wrestling an Australian dragon with a kangaroo hopping by. If that isn't good luck I don't know what IS!

Many people ask me why I’m spending so much of my time on this one fairly not so lucrative profession.  When you put it down on paper it certainly doesn’t seem to make much sense.  I guess if you look at it from a money perspective, my hourly wage in actual prize money divided by the hours of training I put in isn’t that far off of someone working an entry level position.  With that said, I think taking the road less traveled has allowed me to challenge myself, see the world differently and the lessons I’ve learned are lessons that will apply for the rest of my life to whatever my next  career entails.  If I never started a race, I’d never know the pain of the final miles, but I’d also never know the thought processes I can use to address obstacles, overcome nutritional issues or what it feels like to cross that finish line after emptying the tank.  The story has to be written, and it can only be written by being willing to put yourself out there.  Some days that has meant crawling across the line.  Others, like this past Sunday, it’s meant bounding down a red carpet flying an American flag with the announcers as surprised as I was that some woman with a long last name came on strong and took the final spot on the podium.   

I came to Ironman Melbourne for a couple of reasons.  The first was because I wanted to see how I would fare against such a strong field early in the season.  It was important to know where things were after 2-3 months of consistent solid work.  The second reason was because doing well here gave me options.  I am not in the same place I was last year going to Kona as a professional.  If it went well, great, it may put me in a good spot to contend for that starting line.  If it didn’t go as well, it might become clear there was another plan for this season. I was open to either idea, as long as I gave it everything and felt this race was a good indication of where I am at the moment. 

Sometimes, you have those pre-race situations where no matter how hard you try, everything seems to fall apart around you and the real challenge is getting to the start line prepared, ready and without breaking yourself!  This was not one of those situations.  Instead, it just seemed that things couldn’t have been more steady, calm and easy before the race.  The puzzle pieces fell into place and I was with a wonderful homestay (Gavin & Anna), well-rested (thank you NormaTec Recovery) and had my side kick, Kyle, with me when the time came to zip up the wetsuit.  I had a real calm and peace about this race that regardless of the outcome, I was just so happy to get to compete on this large stage and be healthy.  After the quality training the QT2 pro crew and I put in just three weeks ago at camp, I knew there wasn’t much else I could have done in that department.  In the end, it was just about execution, and that, my friends, is something I’m getting pretty good about in my ripe old age of three years as pro. 

 My goal for the swim was, as always, get out hard and find some feet.  The water was pretty calm and there were some athletes that should be right around or under an hour.  I knew that was where I needed to be if all went well.  Unfortunately, my get out strategy was not that stellar due to some way too early dolphin diving when it was entirely too shallow.  I completely missed the boat on those girls whom I probably should have been with if I wanted to make it happen.  I was happy to end up with a group and our first half we seemed to be moving right along.  By the halfway point, I was already feeling like the pace was too slow so I decided to jump up front and lead our group of four.  I took over until a far turn buoy, but when we made the turn I didn’t cut hard enough and ended up not picking the best line.  The girls cut in and I hopped back on feet to draft.  The current was also coming toward us and causing choppy waves.  I decided sitting on feet made more sense than trying to shave 30 seconds off my time by myself.  

 I was pretty disappointed to see we came out with a time of 1:06 on the clock which meant 1:03 due to offset time of the pro men’s start.  I tried not to let it get me down as there was plenty of racing to do!
Swim time 1:03 – 11th female pro

On to the bike, I was feeling good right from the start (which doesn’t always happen for me after a tough swim with lots of kicking)!  My power numbers were easily coming up and I had a few girls that I swam with, including my QT2 teammate Stephanie, right within sight. This is always helpful to keep your mind focused and in the game.  The weather was absolutely spectacular with a temperature of low 60 F for most of the bike.  My goal of downing bottles early was coming right along and those first hours were spent only thinking about nailing my nutrition, heart rate, and watts.  I saw Stephanie peel off and we exchanged words, as I knew she already wasn’t feeling well with contracting the norovirus earlier that week.  I was sad for her as I knew how much she wanted to feel good and race, but I also knew she knows her body and was making the right call.  

I passed a girl or two in those first hours, but mostly it was just me alone, doing my thing!  Then the age group male packs started coming into play as we neared the turnaround at mile 28.  I let most of them pass without an issue, but resolved to not have the same things happen that took place at Kona.  The road was in exceptional condition and we seemed to be speeding along quite nicely on the way out so I knew that could make for a possible headwind as we navigated the rolling downhill on the way back.  My first power split was right on, almost a little high, but I took comfort in the fact that my coach was pretty confident in my abilities and gave me a conservative number to hit in the beginning stages of the bike.  I saw Kyle along the road a few times and it was great to have his encouragement.  I had no idea where I was at that point and it didn’t matter much as it was still so early! 

I definitely could feel the wind on the way back as I headed toward town.  The male packs seemed to get thicker and more planned at that point as well.  This time I was mentally ready and when I saw it occurring sometimes it meant putting on a pretty large press to get around an entire group and burning a few more matches than I would have liked.  I just could not let them control the race and make decisions that would put me in a position too close to them.  I had to be responsible for my race out there.  Other times, I would cut in behind the lead rider at a legal distance and try to hold the legal gap to push the rest of them back and stop the madness.  That never lasted long, as they would just get mad they were losing him and pull into my space.  I had to keep falling back to stay legal, but at least I tried.  I saw many draft marshals and I felt pretty darn confident they could see I was doing my very best to do things right.  I only wish I would have seen more offenders getting a penalty.  The bike was flying by and I’d catch a glimpse of the leaders each time they made the turn and it seemed like I might be putting some time into them as I came back into town.  My equipment was performing great thanks to TopGear Bicycle Shop and Rudy Project Wingspan Helmet and Rydon Sunglasses.  My Powerbar Perform  and gels were spot on and I had to pee early and often.  Unfortunately, I seemed to be back to my old ways of not being able to “go” on the bike so I had to pull over, not so fun!  That always takes time which makes me mad, but the good news was I was very hydrated and feeling good.  All told I consumed 8 bottles of Powerbar Perform and Gatorade (from the course), 1 Powerbar and 5 Powergels. 

 I was flying on the way back out to the turnaround and was determined to pick up the wattage even more as we climbed through the tunnel.  I even picked up a girl that went speeding out of transition who I thought I might never see again if she continued at that rate.  The drafting was much worse as the wind picked up on the way back in to town again, but I just tried to remain positive and stay in the game.  Just because people felt it was fine to cheat didn’t mean that I could slack off one inch from my plan. I felt good, but I was starting to get that “get me off my bike because I’m ready to be done with it now feeling!”  The town crowds roared as we made our way back in and I saw how desperately close to 5 hours I was going to be, but I knew it was time to relax and get in safely.  I’ll get that 5 hr. barrier next time! 

Bike Time 5:00:13 – 8th female pro

It was time for my first ever point to point run.  We started in Frankston and headed along the coast to St. Kilda through some smaller towns.  I felt decent through the first few miles, but then the familiar strange sensation with my feet started creeping in.  It was like they were totally asleep and tingling.  I couldn’t believe it!!  It was the SAME exact thing that had happened at the World Championships in Kona, minus some dehydration and being low on calories.  I knew I was hydrated as I hit a bathroom stop on the way out of transition and things were in order!  I also felt my calorie intake was spot on.  It had to be an electrolyte imbalance with potassium, so I resolved to start shoving bananas in my mouth as quickly as I could get them down. I did a half of one, then another, then one final half about 2k apart. I’m pretty sure I ended up with as much on my face as I did in my mouth! I took a saltstick and then another shortly after.  The main thing I didn’t do was panic.  I was convinced something would bring things around if I could just hang in there while trying different strategies.  I also started to develop a hot spot on my left foot that hurt with every step around mile five.
 Around mile nine, my feet started slowly regaining sensation and were feeling much better!  I was back in it!  I also saw Kyle and I was getting my first reports that I may be in 6th from people along the course.  Kyle told me how strong I looked and that 5th place was just up ahead and in his words “had my bike”.  He is well aware that getting a bike escort is a big deal for me and that I love it!!  Once he said that, I started looking ahead with a keen eye for that bike with a waving flag.  Right at mile ten, I could see I was gaining, and gaining fast.  It wasn’t long after, I made the pass and tried to do so looking as smooth and as good as possible, while encouraging Ana.

The miles were ticking away and I rarely looked at pace as my goal was more about keeping my heart rate and effort steady so that I could keep the numbers up later in the race.  I kept thinking about perfect form, quick feet, smooth, relaxed breath.  I sang songs and was so happy when my homestay couple, Gavin & Anna, would be around cheering, as well as, Kyle!  They were encouraging and it really lifted my spirits!  Not knowing the exact miles was pretty nice during that middle section where it starts to get hard.  My hot spot(s) were really starting to bother me and I had to consciously try to block out the fact that it felt like the skin was sheering off at every stride.  I thought about my good friend BETH and her foot at Kona in 2011 where she pretty much got the biggest blisters I had ever seen.  She had to have them lanced at the hospital and bandaged.  If she could run with them, then I could run ten more miles with my foot in this state.

The crowds were great and I got a lot of “Go Kimmy” and “brilliant running” which made me smile!  The cheering is quite different over here, but it all helps! Finally, I saw Kyle around mile 19 and he was talking about me putting time into fourth place.  He started encouraging me to think ahead and keep pressing on it.  I was pretty happy to be in fifth so I wanted to make sure I had that locked up and he said I did, but that if I kept the same pace I could get the next pro.  I knew it was going to hurt to do it, but I had to keep believing it was possible.  I knew I’d never be able to live with myself if I settled and I think some of his cheering was definitely based around “DON’T SETTLE!” (which was just what I needed!).   

Seeing another bike ahead I got excited, this may happen!  I didn’t know who it was at first, but it turned out to be Angela Naeth.  I had just seen Sonja, so she was there with Angela and it would make sense that they would be close. I took a deep breath, pulled my energy together and with a “good job Naeth” made the pass.  I was now in fourth!  

It was shaping up to be a great day!  At 32km I knew I only had 10k to go and 10k was only about 42 minutes, totally do-able.  My body was breaking down slowly, but I tried to maintain form and keep the turnover quick.  Miles 20-24 were tough, but I knew once I got close I’d be fine.  I’d been pushing the caffeine extremely hard in the second half and hoped it would lessen the pain just a bit! 

All of the sudden people started reporting that 3rd place may be within reach.   I didn’t want to believe them as I was just in so much pain and the thought of putting in MORE effort just didn’t seem possible. Kyle yelled “BEAST MODE” and I knew he was looking for me to empty the tank.  Kyle and I have spent ample time talking about how there is always more in the tank than you think there is at the time.  We also discuss how I’ve been well prepared by my coach Jesse, with QT2, to close when it really counts.  With less than two miles, I saw Stephanie back out on the course cheering with her husband Drew and she said “only thirty seconds Kim, you can do this!  Third is yours!”  

Could it really be?  Could I pull this off?  I questioned my own ability not to just keel over if I put in that kind of effort, but again, “I had to try right?”  Gavin and Kyle were close and cheering like mad along the course.  I could see the bike flag along the winding path, it was time to see if I could get this done so it didn’t come down to a sprint finish.  I remembered the last hard mile of camp after the ten mile run; I remembered the time away from my husband, the hours I’d spent on the trainer, the miles of cold running where my eyelashes were frozen.  All of the images flashed through like a snapshot of what I had done to prepare for this moment and I pulled myself together and put in big effort to reach Rebecca Keat.  We exchanged a few words of encouragement and I was off.  I didn’t hear her trying to come with me, so I breathed a small sigh of relief. 
I still didn’t let myself think too far ahead.  It was just time to stay smooth and finish it off!  When the cameras pulled up in the final mile I finally started to feel like I might make it to the finish line with 3rd place as a reality!  The crowds were lining the area and starting to cheer “well done” and other fun things!  I waved to the camera and smiled through the pain.  This might actually be happening!!

When I finally rounded the corner that takes you onto the red carpet I probably should have looked back, but I didn’t, I just got this HUGE grin on my face and started cheering!  I couldn’t believe it!! With the help of my amazing coach, family, friends, and of course my Melbourne cheering crew of Kyle, Gav, Anna, Steph, Sonja and everyone watching at home I had pulled it off!!  This was unbelievable!!  I heard someone call my name in the finishing shoot and I looked over right at that time and they were holding an American flag out to me!  I grabbed it and held it high as I felt my heart would almost burst from joy.  It was weeks, months and even years of training and discipline coming together in that one moment!  I wasn’t on the ground, I was on cloud 9 and it was AWESOME! 

 Photo Credit: Jay Prasuhn, LAVA Magazine

I was so thankful for a great day and for things to come together in such a way!  I crossed the line in 9 hrs. 10 minutes, a new overall PR and with the fastest run split of 3:01:34.  I love my new kit by Coeur Sports because it also allowed me to have a new chaffing PR of ZERO!  No kidding!  I am usually screaming in the shower but this kit performed so beautifully out there!  It's cute AND functional! 

 The Women's Podium: 1st Caroline Steffen, 2nd Mary Beth Ellis, 3rd - Yours truly

This race was so special for many different reasons, but the people I met were a big part of this experience and getting to see my college cross country teammate Jen, and her husband Andy, was a wonderful treat as well.  At our celebratory dinner, it comes out that THEY were the ones with the flag and were waiting for me so they could hand it to me!  I was so delirious at that point that I had no idea how I got it!! What a story!!

Thanks to Kyle for his undying support and flying half way across the world to be there with me! Thanks to my family who is so important to me and I feel their love every time I race.  Thanks to Coach Jesse who I would NEVER be able to do any of this without.  You are one in a million!   

 Anna & Gav - our AMAZING homestay!  We love you guys!  Thanks for everything!

Thanks to my friends, and specific to this race, Gav, Anna, Stephanie, Drew, Jen and Andy who were such important pieces of this day.   

Great job to Bruce, my fellow Pittsburgh Triathlete crew and good friend!  He set a new PR at the IM distance!

 My homecoming surprises from my wonderful family! Thank you Kahle family!  You made me feel so special!

Thanks to my sponsors Ultragrain, Coeur Sports, Powerbar, NormaTec Recovery, QT2 Systems, Rudy Project, FuelBelt, Top Gear Bicycle Shop  for helping make these races possible and outfitting me in the best gear so I can do what I do on race day flawlessly.  Thanks to all the volunteers who gave of their time and energy so we can do what we love.  Finally, thanks to the other pro women and everyone who finished for pushing me and for being willing to take a chance.  What would you do if you couldn't fail?  When you think about it, we may lose, we may win, but either way, the sun is going to come up the next morning.  That's a fact.  To my fellow dreamers - we dared to fail, and it was worth every single step!   May you always put yourself out there and give it a whirl!!


Kiet said...

When you are doing something you are passionate about, it really doesn't matter how little or how much money you are making, you just have to do it, no rhyme or reason in it. And the whole age group men drafting! Absolutely freaking inspiring, I almost pulled out my credit and... :)

marian said...

congratulations! i was so excited to see you run into 3rd place. and with that kind of field!!

Damie said...

Wow wow! Love this... Especially the long version. Huge congrats!

J. L. said...

I'm just a random 40-something age-grouper that follows your blog. I was so excited when I checked the results of Ironman Australia...I wanted to see how Craig Alexander did. And I had a smile on my face for an hour for YOU! So exciting!!!! Thanks for sharing the journey with us.

Ben Erdeljac said...

Awesome race! Awesome story! I would have read 10 pages! Congratulations!

Ben Erdeljac said...

Awesome race! Awesome story! I would have read 10 pages! Congratulations!

Ultragrain said...

We're so proud of you, Kim! Brilliant running!

Jennifer Harrison said...

LOVED your race report and THE LONG VERSION!! :)) ha. You deserve all this success KIM - you work hard and are a good person. And, that is key. ENJOY this one for a long time! :) I am so happy for you!!!!

Kristin M said...

Congrats! I loved reading the emotion and enthusiasm for the sport in this blog entry! You are one tough chick! :)

Unknown said...

KIM!!!!! AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!! you are a rockstar! -Kim K.

Stacy Byers said...

Loved reading the full recap. :-) Congrats on an amazing accomplishment!!! You continue to be a huge inspiration!