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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Kona race report-bend and not break



   Wow!  Hard to believe that the season that started so long ago and took me on such a wild, awesome ride has come to a close, at the world championships nonetheless.  I was notably quiet on this blog in the time between Tremblant and Kona, for good reason-life was kind of getting the better of me.  Work was very busy and I was getting a bit overwhelmed with trying to get everything done before heading out to Kona.  In the meantime, I had spent a good part of my first week of real training after Tremblant at QT2 pro camp in New Hampshire-an awesome experience, but to be perfectly honest I just got my butt kicked (and I crashed on some railroad tracks-road rash and bruises only, thank God).  I came home sore, down on my fitness, swollen, and bruised.  I managed to pull myself out of the gutter shortly afterwards, but slow, fat, and out of shape basically sums up how I felt throughout most of my Kona prep.  I was putting undue pressure on myself, as well-every time my workout numbers weren't where I wanted them to be, or I stepped on the scale and saw something I didn't like, or I stopped during a trainer workout and took off a shirt I should have left on, or I slogged through a workday with no energy, I questioned everything.  Why do I think that I can compete with the best women in the world, the ones I read about in magazines and have admired throughout the years?  I don't live like them.  I can't live like them.  I don't deserve to be there.  Everyone thinks I'm going to do so awesome, but I'm not training all that well, and I'm going to let everyone down.  It took until the last few days before I left for Kona for me to finally pull myself out of that funk (a surprise birthday/good luck party with all my family and friends there helped lift the spirits for sure-thanks again guys, you rock!).  Maybe I wasn't in the best shape of my life, but I was reasonably close.  At the very least, my swimming and biking numbers had mostly rebounded, and my runs had been within their normal ballpark, although they weren't feeling as fluid and as easy as they have in the past (something that would come back to haunt me on race day).
Some carnage from my run in with the angled railroad tracks

Things that sucked a lot: showering

You know what happens when you open your big fat mouth and talk about how you never bruise?  You eat pavement, and get bruises.  I was lucky though!!!

    Dave and I flew out to Kona the Sunday before the race.  The 24 hours of travel were erased the next morning, as soon as I ate my first dose of fresh papaya (Kona tropical fruit=AMAZING), swam in a virtual aquarium of tropical fish and sea turtles, and ran in the hot island sun.  Everything I'd heard about the buzz of Kona and the magic of the island was seeming to come to life.  I actually even...liked swimming?  I'll blame it on the fish-I really like cool fish.  On Monday, we made it to our condo for the week with roomies Sam, Adam, and Cindy, and settled in.  The rest of the week went by more quickly than I had been expecting, with swims at the pier, rides on the Queen K, frequent trips to the QR tent at the expo (I can't thank those guys enough for taking awesome care of my bike and salvaging what they could after a year of my abuse), stops at the farmer's market (I have to prepare myself to be disappointed by mangoes and pineapples for the rest of my life now, I think), and incredibly long drives down Ali'i.  Seriously, if I had to pick the worst thing about Kona, that drive would be it (although constantly sweating and breaking out in gross rashes would be a close second).  Our condo, which was awesome, was still about five miles down the road from the race site, and I don't think it ever took us less than 20 minutes to make it there.  On my own, this would have sucked, but being in the car with Dave, aka the least patient person I've ever met in my life, particularly when driving, compounded matters.  Anyways.  Before I knew it, Saturday rolled around, and I was eating pancakes with the team, dropping off my bike, riding in the car as Dave drove the bike course, and meeting with Jesse for the game plan.  As I'd done all week (which was no easy task, given the amount of fluid loss just from moving around in Kona), I made sure to keep the fluid and electrolyte levels topped off with a few bottles of Nuun.  I slept well that night (thank you 29 years of east coast time zone!), and woke up feeling ok...briefly.  The nerves that had been at bay all week set in HARD that morning, as I went through body marking, last minute bike prep, and bag drop offs.
View from our hotel room the first morning on the island.  I was ok with it.

But I wanted to pet them!  I didn't, though.

We had a lunch guest!  I wonder if Hawaiians think we're weird when we get excited about geckos.  They're probably about as exciting over there as squirrels are over here.

Moving on, our balcony at the condo.  I was ok with that, too.

We stayed in a gated community.  Oh, the times that I wish I had my crappy car to park between these guys...
Turnaround on the Queen K during one of my rides, just awesome

Yes, on Dave's urging, we did the underpants run.  This blog wouldn't be complete unless I traumatized the masses with this picture of pasty Dave and his speedo butt.

Public near nudity at its finest.

I wore more clothing than Dave
One thing I did was a signing for QR.  Making a face fit for a cover modela.

Waiting in line for bike check in.  Sweating profusely.

    Despite the initial nerves while getting everything set in transition, I brought things down to a reasonable level by the time I got into the water and put in a good swim warmup, something that’s been key to my ability to make swim groups in my past few races.  The five minutes between the pro men’s and women’s starts seemed to still take an interminably long time, though, so I was happy to be set off on my way.  The normal initial scrum cleared after a short bit, and I was glad to find myself in a group of several other women after the first few hundred yards.  I did have to fight a bit for the first ~10min or so, but after that the pace settled nicely, and I was feeling strong.  Another woman and I were swimming side by side, trying to stay on the same feet, until I finally conceded and tucked in behind her-we were in a line, so it made no difference.  And that was basically how the swim proceeded for the entire way out, which seemed to take absolutely forever.  I had two women ahead of me, and at least one behind that I was aware of, which I was thankful for-it meant that I A. wasn’t DFL in the water, and B. had a little bit more motivation to hold my place in the pace line, as I didn’t want to be the slouch that screwed the women behind me over.  
The calm before the swim start storm
    About halfway back to shore, I began to feel as if my effort was dropping.  I contemplated on whether or not to make a move-was the potential savings of a few seconds here or there worth the extra effort of moving out of my draft?  I tried to stay patient for a bit longer, until the “screw it, it’s the world championships” mentality took over.  I figured that the last ~10-15min of that swim were the last chance I’d get to take advantage of the work I’d put in in the pool over the past year (and I have to admit, that after finally forcing flip turns upon myself, my lungs were feeling pretty darn good in that open water), so I surged around the two women ahead of my and took my turn pulling at the front.  I could see another couple of women just ahead (one of whom would turn out to be Kim).  I tried to close the gap, and although I was unsuccessful in this endeavor, I didn’t regret my decision to try.  The woman behind me followed.  I never fully trust my navigational skills in the water, so I was pretty pleased with myself when I stayed true to course and finally made it to the swim out.  A quick glance at the watch revealed a 1:06-about what I had hoped for, and my best non-wetsuit swim to date.  My swimming will probably always continue to be a work in progress, but to go from barely breaking 1:10 at Placid, one of the easiest wetsuit swims out there, to a relatively comfortable 1:06 in Kona while having the confidence and skills to make groups and navigate and stuff in just over a year-well, I’ll take it. 
    Once in transition, I saw that the woman who had been using my feet was the legendary Natascha Badmann.  I kind of wanted to tell her that she was sort of my hero and totally badass (especially given that I was probably still in diapers when she started competing, and she’s still crushing me), but it seemed a little stalker-ish and inappropriate for a T1 changing tent conversation, so I decided that I had made my contribution to Kona, and continued on my way.  I instead proceeded to the bike exit, where I had one of my more embarrassing “attempting to do a walking mount” situations, and failed miserably.  My Garmin revealed that this little fiasco (witnessed by a huge freaking crowd, and probably caught on tape by someone) took about 30 seconds.  Real smooth, Hansen.  Once I finally managed to get my feet into my pedals (biking 101), I immediately started to push, per Jesse’s instructions-take it out hard to the airport, and then settle in.  The women that I had gotten out of the water with left me during my pathetic little mount, so I just began to crank out the wattage, much to the chagrin of my quads.  They were burning pretty good-and my seat, for some reason, felt low.  Had it slipped?  I reached down and felt the piece of electrical tape I use to mark the seat height.   It seemed to be in place, so I figured that the early intensity was playing tricks on me.  As I’d later discover when I went to disassemble the bike, though, my instinct had in fact been correct-my seatpost had somehow slipped down about a third of an inch.  I’m actually glad I didn’t realize it, because although it probably wasn’t enough to affect anything, I probably still would have had it in my head for the rest of the day.  Anyways, I dug in and eventually caught up to Kim.  I established legal distance…and then just stayed there for the next 2.5 hours or so.  I was feeling ok, not great, and trying to keep Kim in my sights was giving me something to focus on, allowing me to zone all of the bad thoughts out.  The miles ticked off quickly.  I kept waiting for the famous winds, but…nothing.  I began to feel better and better as we moved towards Hawi.  A few male age groupers had started to pass us; I think I had moved up a few places as well, but I wasn’t really sure.  
Deep in thought or something

Sticking my tongue out at Dave.  Nothing sucked yet.  I was at the world championships.  Kona!  Yay!
    Shortly before the turnaround, the age groupers started to pass us with greater frequency.  Kim stopped to refill at special needs, so I continued on, still waiting for those winds.  I figured that if I wasn’t scared in the least, it had to be a really calm day by Hawaii standards.  I began to push the wattage a bit more until the male age groupers began to mix in to a greater degree, causing me to have to sit up and soft pedal in order to fall out of their draft zones quite a bit.  At one point, an absolutely ridiculous peloton of probably at least 30 men passed me, with one guy actually saying “bike race! bike race!”.  These guys weren’t in my race, but I still found myself getting frustrated for those that were riding legally.  I mean, it’s the world championships-don’t blatantly cheat.  Another (legally riding) guy passed me a bit later and actually remarked, “did you know that there’s a bike race going on today?”  But, I couldn’t do anything but keep riding.  By that point, my power was increasing, and I was toying with continuing to push vs. waiting until the last 30 miles or so.  When I turned back onto the Queen K, the headwind had picked up, but I remembered what Jesse had told me-don’t worry about the speed, as long as the wattage is where it should be, which was the case.
    The trip back along the Queen K ended up being a bit of an exercise in keeping my wits about me.  The packs ahead of me had started to break up (and/or get penalties), so I increasingly found myself trapped behind several lines or packs of men.  I’d have to pass the entire line in order to stay legal, so my choices often came down to spiking the power to get ahead, or watching my power drop (right when I really felt like I wanted to push it).  I tried to err on the side of staying patient, but several times I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I’d throw down a surge to try to get myself clear.  Invariably, someone would immediately pass me back (clearly not re-establishing their draft zone prior to repassing), at times passing me and then flat out coasting.  On the bright side, I at least now have more motivation to improve at swimming, I suppose.  Miles 80-90 seemed to drag, but the last 20 miles or so went by quickly, and before I knew it I was finally turning off the Queen K and heading towards transition.  I cursed myself once in transition for forgetting to throw my frozen water bottle in there in the morning, as Jesse had told me, and did my best to cool off with cups of water before heading out of the changing tent.  I also started to rip the elastic lace in my shoe before heading out-thankfully, it held on by a literal elastic thread.  With that, I was off!
    During the first few steps of that marathon, I could tell that I was in for a long run.  I couldn’t quite pinpoint what was off-it was just a general feeling of blah.  I tried to brush it off at first-I’d been there before.  Jesse told me to just let the legs come around in that first mile.  Well, I waited for them to come around…and it just wasn’t happening.  My pace was ok at first-low 7’s-but I felt like I was pressing.  This was a contrast to my last two Ironmans, during which I’d started the marathons feeling like I was jogging 6:50’s.  Maybe I’ve just been spoiled.  I tried everything I could to get my body to come around-a gel, salt, ice, water, more ice, sponges (of course), but nothing was really working too well.  I was becoming increasingly concerned during the initial out and back along Ali’I, given that’s the easiest portion of the course.  I almost considered just turning off my Garmin at that point, actually, so I’d stop worrying about the mile splits, but opted to give myself some feedback.  So I felt like crap running-big freaking deal.  It was the world championship, and thousands of athletes out there would have given anything to be in my position.  It didn’t occur to me to quit, or give up, or to do anything but continue pushing.  Although my pace wasn’t great, my heart rate was right where it should have been.  I saw Kim as we headed towards the out and back, and we gave each other a look that just suggested we were in the same boat at that point.  Finally, I made it back towards Palani, where Jesse again told me to slow down and get the heat under control as I headed back up towards the Queen K.
Early on in the run...already struggling
    Slowing down I could manage.  Heat-wise, my body didn’t feel bad at that point, but my face was just on fire.  I hadn’t put any sunscreen on it, and I don’t run in any sort of visor or hat-although after that race, I’ve decided that I need to figure out how to be comfortable in one.  I kept pouring ice down my top at aide stations, which felt marvelous, and then pulling cubes out (reaching into the boob area-classy) to rub around my face.  I just kept readjusting the pace goal-under 7:10, under 7:20, under 7:30.  Where is the freaking energy lab??  I think I had the energy lab built up too much in my mind; I thought it was longer than it actually is, and I kept wondering why it was taking so freaking long to get there.  My stomach stopped being happy somewhere around mile 11, and taking in anything other than water started to require some effort.  Why does this seem like it just keeps going uphill?  I saw Mirinda Carfrae hauling back down the Queen K.  Then I recognized Pete Jacobs walking-and I realized that I could freaking keep going.  I vowed not to walk-I didn’t think that I’d be able to start running again if I stopped for a second.  I momentarily felt a little bit better as we made the turn into the energy lab around mile 16 and thought to myself, great, finally I’m coming around, time to roll.  The cloud cover had really thickened by that point, and the face burning had really calmed down.  That stress had been removed.  Unfortunately, though, the feeling better was short-lived.  At that point, over eight hours into my day, three Ironmans in 10 weeks and the less than ideal preparation heading into the race caught up to me.  After all, I can count on one hand the times that I’d run over an hour between Tremblant and Kona.  
    My teammates offered me encouragement down in the energy lab, as did a pro woman who passed me.   I saw Jessie on her way out-see you at the finish, she told me.  A simple statement, but it willed me onwards.  Just keep moving forward was my one mantra.  The wheels really loosened somewhere around mile 18.  I again adjusted my pace goal-under 8:00.  I missed it a few times on some of the uphill miles (3 total, to be exact), but once back out on the Queen K I let go of worry about my overall time, and just concentrated on those sub-8’s, which were still attainable.  Additionally, although my heart rate had dropped a bit, it wasn’t horribly dramatic, just from the high-150’s/very low 160’s to the mid-150’s.  Mentally, it helped.  Around that time, though, I was getting pretty concerned.  I wasn’t really eating or drinking anything, I just felt sick and waterlogged.  I wasn’t hot anymore, so the ice and sponges weren’t giving me any relief.  I was getting pretty out of it, feeling weak and shaky.  Unlike my other races this season, I wasn’t sure that I was actually going to make it to the finish.  I told myself just make it to mile 24.5-after that, it would be all downhill, and I could do that.  The only way that I wasn’t going to finish, though, would be if I passed out on the course, I decided.  At one aide station, they told us we were 2.96 miles from the finish, and I just wanted to cry-that short distance just seemed interminably long at that time.
Grimacing my way back down Palani.  We watched Zoolander after the race, so I feel it appropriate to describe myself as "so hot right now" in this picture.
     Finally, finally, after a string of excruciating 7:50’s, I made it back to Palani.  Jesse told me to go, and I just basically let myself fall down that hill.  The last little stretch before turning down to head back to Ali’i just kept going…and going.  At that point, I wanted to grab every well-meaning person who told me that I was “almost done”, look him or her in the eyes, and just scream, “THAT DOES NOT HELP ME RIGHT NOW!!!”  By the time I made it onto Ali’i for the finish, I had nothing left in me.  My one regret from that race is that my miserable tunnel vision at the end kept me from appreciating the greatest finish line in our sport.  The crowds were awesome, just engulfing the final stretch, but it took all of my energy just to make it through, up the final little ramp, and across the line.  My finish line video reveals me taking a couple of staggered steps, looking a bit shell-shocked, and then leaning over until a couple of wonderful volunteers swooped in and supported me, practically carrying me away from the line.  They were asking if I wanted anything, but at that point I didn’t even want to THINK about drinking anything else (I had to pee within 10 minutes of finishing; water-logged I certainly was).  They soaked my finish towel in ice water for me, which was amazing, and helped me to the finisher’s shirts and medals table.  We finally decided that I could make it without medical attention, and I just deposited myself onto the grassy lawn for a bit, just wanting to relax and not move until I eventually met up with Dave in the pro lounge.
My inspiring finish.  To everyone who may have watched the live feed hoping to watch me come in all motivationally...I apologize.

Totally fried.  I liked when people told me they could tell that I left it all out there.  That's basically code for, "you looked terrible".  It's ok, guys.  You can say it.
    In retrospect, even if I’m not fully satisfied with that race, I have to at least be a little proud of it.  Crushing some PR run while moving up in the field and knowing that you’re putting time on the women behind you-that’s easy.  Continuing on when you know you’re going to run your slowest IM marathon ever, you feel like crap, and you’re getting passed-that’s hard.  But I can honestly look back on that race and say with 100% certainty that after my string of recent racing and less than ideal training, I used everything that I had left in me.  Plus, my swim and bike were actually quite good for me, which I think is important going forward.  I had one woman within one minute of me, two more within two minutes, and a few more within five minutes-so I’m getting there.  I put myself in a decent position to use my run, butit just wasn’t there, which is how it sometimes goes.  No excuses or apologies, it’s just what it is.  The silver lining is that I now have a little bit of ammunition to convince those around me that I do in fact need to do more of my favorite thing in training-running!  Right??  Plus, I feel like I’m heading into the offseason in the perfect position-happy with my final race but not thrilled.  I’m clearly not on the level of the top women, but I can now see that with a few more years, maybe, just maybe I could get a little bit closer.  Unfortunately, my 20th place finish didn’t do me many favors in terms of points for next year, so I’ll basically have to start from scratch, but the good news is that I love racing, and I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to get myself back to the big island next year in a better position to maximize what I have and do well.  Still, I’ve got a little bit of time to recharge the batteries before starting out again, though!
Once again, huge amounts of thanks to so many for this amazing storybook season-for our sponsors quintana roo for providing me with the bike that's served me VERY well this season (and for going the extra mile for me with their pre-race help), Rudy Project for keeping my head cool and fast (and also for going the extra mile to get me a non-cracked helmet), and Nuun, Fuelbelt, Powerbar, and Normatec for all getting me to and through the race!  Thanks to everyone who took the time to track me throughout the day (sorry my run place didn't get any more exciting, haha) and/or offer me good luck and congrats before or after the race-I read everyone's messages even if I didn't get a chance to respond, and I appreciated every last one of them, those are the things that keep me going when it gets brutal out there!  Of course, HUGE thanks to Mary, Jesse, and everyone at QT2 for the amazing guidance and support-not just through this leg of the journey, but throughout this entire incredible whirlwind of a season that's just been filled with awesome races and experiences.  The help I've gotten has been second to none, and having the teammates that I've grown close to out there with me on Saturday really helped the motivation.  And, of course, many thanks to my closest friends and family for putting up with all of my stuff and supporting me to the utmost throughout my athletic career.  Especially to Dave, for being my Kona race sherpa (there, I said it, happy now loser?)
    To wrap this up, instead of describing all of the stuff we did before leaving for home, I figure that pictures tell the story better than I could!  
Reliving my finish the next morning.  I think that I nailed it.
Day after the race, getting into what's important-real Kona coffee before a coffee plant tour.  After nearly a month without real coffee, this was pure bliss in a cup.

The resident rooster/chicken couple at the coffee plantation.  And yes, as they clearly demonstrated during the tour, they are in fact a couple (haha).

The sampling area

One of several cool-looking trees in downtown Kona.  The guys that take care of it caught me taking pictures!

Just kidding.  There's nothing they could have done for me after that race.

QT2 post-race party.  "Dave, get me another drink!" (5 minutes later) "I already had a couple, I don't want that anymore.  Hold the girly drink so I can take pictures.  Sucker!"

Kim and I by the sea, celebrating an awesome season

 
Kim and I in some lighting where you can actually see us! Love this girl!

Sam and Adam were in a selfie competition all week...so after buying a waterproof case for my phone, I decided to underwater selfie with a snorkel and mask.  Attractive.

The color quality was awful, but here's some sweet fish.Note:  I am voluntarily swimming.

A coral bloom
My race souvenir-some nasty heat rash.  GROSS.  

Two days after the race, we decided to swim to Captain Cook's monument with Buffaloians Aubrey and John, where the snorkeling was supposed to be awesome and dolphins were supposed to come by.  It didn't look that far at first...
And we had fins and stuff (although they didn't make swimming in a bikini any more practical)
...but it took FOREVER to get there.  And there were no freaking dolphins.  And the water got really cold by the monument, so we didn't even want to snorkel around there.  And we had to swim all the way back.  And it was day 2 of my offseason and I was FREAKING SWIMMING VOLUNTARILY.

 
Proof we made it to the stupid monument.  Oh well, it was a bonding experience with good people!
 
Last night on the island-some pictures of the sunset from our balcony.  It was so awesome that I even delayed going out to dinner to watch it-that says a lot.

I think this was about the time that we became deeply disappointed when we found out that the cheap sushi place with good reviews was closed on Mondays

At least we had an awesome view while arguing about where to go eat

The next day, we hiked down a 25% grade into a valley

The waterfalls were dried, but they still were cool

Stream with vines and stuff

These horses were just wandering around in the valley.  Dave befriended one of his kind.

The view from above.  We wanted to make it to that black sand beach.  Didn't quite work out (looking at a trail map would have helped), but still a sweet experience.

All kinds of cool fruit trees were growing down there (again, this is probably about as cool to Hawaiians as apple trees are to us.  I was the weirdo taking pictures).

Dave was whining about how he was thirsty, so luckily there were a couple of Hawaiian guys down there just handing out some of the fruit that grew on their land to give us a coconut with a bamboo straw, among other things.  Maybe not so sanitary, but those are the risks you can take in offseason-the guava were fabulous!

Random totem pole




Walking back up the 25% grade hill.  I finally got Dave to admit that he could not in fact bike up it.

Apparently things can get crazy down in there.


Navigating some rocks down in the valley

Eccentric quad loading, anyone?

Finally, we moved on to some waterfalls

See?

More cool viney tree stuff

Flowers you don't see every day back in Rochester

Dave and a bamboo tree

Almost done walking up, getting all sweaty for the plane!























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