There is absolutely no possible way to describe the 6 days I spent in Kona. I know it probably sounds extreme, but, for me, these days were life changing. Physically demanding, yes. But emotional as well.
I have dreamt about competing in the Kona Ironman World Championships since my first Ironman 11 years ago. It is one of those events that is on nearly every long distance triathletes “bucket list”. It is the “Mac Daddy” of all Triathlons. The “Super Bowl”. It is a race you have to qualify for, you have to earn your right to compete.
I earned it. And I am still in shock.
Let me explain how it happened. I will try to be short 😉
The positive affirmations started early. People believed in me more than I did! For example…..
1) Before I boarded the plane, my husband said “get that Kona slot (aka Ironman World Championship held annually in October) so I can come back out to Kona with you.”
2) A day earlier three separate people sent me texts that said “bring your checkbook so you can pay for that Kona slot” (they make you sign up and commit within hours of finishing).
3) My stud girlfriend who was racing with me kept telling me I could do this.
All good signs. All making me believe.
Nerves before every race are a little crazy, and this was no different. All anyone talks about is the wind and the heat. Wind. Heat. Wind. Heat. It’s almost like too much of that banter helps me. What are we going to do about it? DEAL. It might suck, but as the organizers of the race said race morning “you signed up for this”. He’s right. We are here, might as well make the most of it. Kona is in itself calming, despite the awkward weather conditions. The water was warm, the sunsets were calming, the food was great, and I had 2 best friends there that just seemed to make everything OK. Help you laugh when you need it and keep everything in perspective.
Swim – 1.2 Miles
Let me just tell you this could be one of the most beautiful swims I have ever done. Just a tad bit different than Alcatraz 😉 Gorgeous. Warm. Like swimming in one big aquarium. It was an in-water start so my girlfriend and I planned our “trail” and moved towards the front. Canon went off and we both swam our hearts out, arm stroke by arm stroke, together until the very last buoy. I felt in control, confident, and strong. It was so fun swimming with her I almost forgot it was a race (kinda)! We turned that last buoy to come in and the chop in the water quadrupled. Seriously!! THAT felt a little like Alcatraz. We lost each other, and then found ourselves in a mound of men we had caught earlier. All of a sudden my peaceful enjoyable swim turned into a battle! Made it to shore (minutes felt like hours all of a sudden) with goal time of 30 minutes. Happy. Step 1. Check!
Bike – 56 Miles
One word: Wind. Not that comes as any surprise to anyone… but you still just don’t know what to expect. There was a lot of it. The kind of wind that makes your bike lean. The kind that feels like a mini tornado at times that will swoop up your bike if you aren’t holding on tight enough. The first six miles were (sadly) pretty painful. They hurt. WTH!? I pressed on (had no other choice!) and eventually got into a groove. The hills seemed brutal. I say seemed because on paper they weren’t that bad. They aren’t near as big as the ones I train on, but again, it’s Kona. For some odd unexplained reason, everything is tough. Ask around, I’m not the only one….
I made it to the turn, grabbed some water, and all of a sudden just broke free. I had this energy surge that I can’t explain. I wanted to push myself like no other. I suddenly was mad at the wind, mad at going “slow” (little did I know I was right at target and slow was relative), and was ready to get this party started. Fortunately, it was at the same time of a nice downhill. Ahhhhhhhhh. Something happened that hasn’t happened, well, ever. I started passing other women. Usually after the swim I find people catching me on the bike yet today was different. Today was MY day. Felt great all the way into T2. I Love Today! 1st woman in age group!! (Didn’t quite know this at the time…..)
Run – 13.1 Miles
Still feeling great, I racked my bike, threw on my running shoes and set off for the winding, hilly, hot course. Did I mention humid? I will admit I was a bit nervous about the heat / humidity so I started “safe”. My 70 degree California “perfect” weather didn’t quite prep me for the 90+ humidity day I was having. Not to mention the course is awkward, to say the least. It is on a golf course; some grass, some cart path, then some off road, then a bit on a hilly street, then back to the golf course. FUN! Hard to get into a “groove”… to say the least… My mind got me through this one. Instead of saying “this sucks, my body isn’t made for the heat” (or for running along a golf course!) I said “my body is effective in the heat”. The more you say something the more you believe it. It worked until about mile 10 when I am pretty sure the sun got hotter. Felt a bit woozy, nauseous, and all around yuck. I remember thinking I was first off the bike and no one has passed me. I have GOT to stay strong. Keep it together, Jen! You can do this!! Three miles isn’t long, but I knew I didn’t want to be crawling to the finish line or worse – cramp up and not finish. I couldn’t bare the thought of losing everything I have worked so hard for so I needed to pace myself and stay as healthy as possible. I mean mental toughness can only go so far 🙂
There was one more turn where you saw your competitors and I could see “her” (aka Winner) making huge gains on me. Yikes. Stay strong. 2 miles to go. I sped up and then got that gross feeling again so backed off a bit. Just a bit I tell you! It is a terrible feeling knowing you are better, can run faster, but it just isn’t happening. Back to my Kona theory. Unexplainable. So, within the last mile, she breezed by me. Literally. I thought to myself “that did not just happen”. SHE DID NOT JUST DO THAT!!!!!
Think about it, it’s a much better story, feeling, etc if you are in 10th place and work your way up to 2nd (sounds amazing, right?) then lead the entire way to find you missed 1st by less than a minute.
I thought about jumping on her back and getting a piggy back ride (this girl is strong – and super cool – she could’ve handled it!) or grabbing on to her fast feet and having her drag me to the finish. All good options right?
That last mile seemed longer than the entire race.
Just before the finish I saw on the cement someone had written “heaven is just around the corner”. Is someone trying to break me I thought. Then I smiled. I truly felt like dad was watching over me. He wanted this as much as I did.
The sweet victory of knocking out a 2nd place age group finish earned me a spot to the Kona Ironman World Championship. A dream. That, coupled with a 10th place overall female finish was a little taste of heaven.
I have so much to be thankful for. I had the race of my life and gave it my all. Of course I wanted to win, but how can I possibly be disappointed to go home with a slot to Kona to compete in THE Ironman and to Vegas to compete in the Half Ironman World Championships. Win / Win in my books!
It is such a great feeling to know hard work and sacrifice was worth it. All these years of pounding the pavement and putting in long hours on the bike and in the pool…. Has …. Finally…. Paid off.
It took a lot of people to make this happen, and I can’t thank you enough. My husband, for keeping me “grounded”, for motivating me when I needed it the most, and for allowing me to be gone for so many hours to “get it done”. My mom, who was cheering for me since I did Ironkids at 8 years old and has always allowed me to dream…. Thank you for your never-ending support regardless of what life throws in our way. My sister and brother who were texting back and forth the entire race with Mary and checking computer details on race outcome…. Always wanting good for me. My clients for constantly inspiring me… Mary for keeping life in perspective, helping me laugh when I needed it most, and being at every transition cheering – as I said – her little heart out. My friends for taking in my kids when I needed to log in some more training hours…. Love you! And I can’t thank enough my friend and fellow triathlete Robin for keeping me sane DAILY during our long days of training…. we are in this “journey” together. The journey of life with a little triathlon here and there thrown at us. Something to show us how strong we really are not only on the inside, but the out.
Last but not least, thank you to my dad for his extra energy. He always believed in me and knew one day I would be in Kona doing the Ironman.
Dad, this “win” was for you. Our “little” dream.