"The Queen K is daunting for those who don’t know what the lava fields feel like…haunting for those who have come undone there."
I'll be honest, I didn't have the day I wanted at Kona... but few do.
If I wrote this recap along the lines of what I should say, well... it would be prime picking for someone like @triexcuse.
Instead, let's get real. I let life get in the way of training as I moved halfway across the country, was living out of boxes for the few months between the weekend after qualifying at Coeur d'Alene and the weekend after Kona. But instead of buckling down, fighting back and getting in the training no matter what, I let life get the better of me. I just wasn't smart enough in the weeks leading up to the race and just not fast enough or strong enough come race day. That's not a valid excuse, that's just me not sucking it up to prioritize what matters. My loss, literally.
The only redeeming factor of the day is once I did start to turn the race around, I crushed it, totally changed my mental attitude and had a blast of a day to finish srtong. I truly love this course, no matter what it throws at me—maybe because of what it throws at me!—and hope to be back in the near future to have yet one more try on the big island.
So down to brass tacks:
I was not a fan of the separate male and female starts. Maybe I was swimming too close on the buoy line but I felt like it did little to alleviate the crowds. It only made things worse when i started running into male swimmers by buoy #3 and had to zig-zag through them on the way back to the pier. You'd hop onto a pair of seemingly good feet.... only to realize that said "good feet" belonged to a 1:30 swimmer. I did my best to pass with grace and some distance but inevitably clobbered the random male or two... sorry guys.
I came out of the water and the photo below about sums up my feeling about how the swim went... Yeah horrified. But how awesome is my new Huub swim skin? The Huub guys helped hook up a dumb blonde that lost her old swim skin and let's just say I'll be sticking with the Huub even after finding my old one—love it!
On the swim I swallowed a fair share of Kona salt water, per usual for me here at this race. I felt okay heading out onto the course but struggled to get my power up to where it needed to be. At the time I attributed it to the rough swim but looking back I probably just wasn't where I needed to be to have the race I wanted, training-wise. Brutally honest, but true.
Things started to turn around when my Mt. Mitchell/Norseman-prep climbing second nature switched on and I crushed it up to Hawi and back down, passing a ton of people and getting passed by very few. But then I came back down onto the flats/rollers and hit the headwind and then the air just went out of my sails. My back was hurting, I was sitting up, things were looking dire. Each aid station I would take two bottles, one for drinking and one for pouring all over myself. Last year I didn't do this enough so this year with my cooling sleeves, I was soaking wet the entire ride in an effort to maximize the cooling power. I think it helped, but my temp was still high as I rode down into T2, thankful to get the running show on the road.
The first four or six miles were just plain brutal. I was overheating and consciously aware that I had to get things under control ASAP to avoid a repeat of last year. The entire race, last year's collapse was very much in the forefront for every strategic decision I made. For the first few miles, I was walking every single aid station, which is totally unlike me, and going into triage mode very early on. But I was coherent and, in my mind, that's all that counts. Somewhere after heading up Palani, I finally started to find a rhythm and find my legs out on the Queen K. I was passing people and feeling good and running through (most) aid stations like a boss.
Things got a little concerning when I saw a friend who had collapsed around the 13-mile mark, almost similar to what happened to me last year. Weirdly enough, I tried to offer some dirty ice out of my sports bra before being told that the ambulance was on its way. Still, that sat in the back of my mind all day: 1) is she okay? 2) it could happen again, to anyone.
The energy lab was okay, not as terrible as last year (though maybe because it showered for the short period I was in there, which felt like a godsend!) but this is where I really started to get things rolling. I actually took my special needs bag for once, even if it just meant stuffing four gels into my back pockets where they would sit unopened through the end of the race. This also marked the turn to Coke—none of that Red Bull that's now on course for me—and I started to keep moving back toward town.
With about 5 miles to go, I came up upon fellow 25-29 age grouper Erin (who just won the overall amateur race at IMFL just 3 short weeks after Kona, NBD.) and felt like she was in striking distance. I could see her coach peddling alongside on his bike shouting instructions and knew in the back of my mind that something was about to go down. I (mistakenly) breathed easy when I saw her duck into a porta-potty but almost immediately she was back out there beside me and passed me (still not sure how that happened!). We ran up Mark and Dave hill, me right behind her and we both started to make the descent down Palani and into town, folks cheering crazy as we ran step-for-step. This part of the course was WAY longer than I remembered—though I use that term loosely since I have no memory of this segment from last year!—but the entire way it was an all-out duel between me and Erin. Her coach was pushing and egging both of us on, which kind of pissed me off because I might have been happy to cruise otherwise but I knew if it got back to HPB.... and so we were knocking off low 7s down the last few turns and onto the stretch down Ali'i.
I made my pass. I didn't dare look back. I tried to keep the pressure on as much as possible all while praying that this last effort wouldn't do me in like last year. Slowly, the finish came into sight. I saw the banyan tree. I saw the start of the barricades, I started to cry thinking about how close it had been the year previous, how I was finally getting my redemption, no matter how much slower than last year or how ugly.
I came up onto the finish line, and walked across unceremoniously. I had been imagining this particular finish for quite some time but there was a girl loitering on the platform, which confused me in the moment (I went back to the finish video and counted: she was on the platform under the clock for something absurd like 11 seconds), so I just strolled on through nonchalantly and stopped my watch. Race over. I was done.
Chapter closed, onto the next race. It was pretty anti-climactic really.
EDIT TO ADD: Ummm, forgot to mention I got 13th in my Age Group, which is still pretty kick-ass! : )
Bottom line: I still have gas in the tank, whether from not having the race I wanted or the heat being a limiter in really letting things loose. Funny enough, I felt even better post-race as far as fitness goes. Just five days later I went on a 9-mile easy jog through San Francisco and then all of my workouts since have been notched up a level. Compared to the sheer exhaustion felt after Norseman, I feel like Kona was more like one long, catered training day that really brought my fitness to a new level. (And for all of those who have asked: yes, Norseman made Kona feel like a cake walk. Sure, heat and humidity can be tough but nothing compared to 20k+ of climbing).
Because of all of the reasons above, I will be racing Ironman Arizona just five short weeks later. But I'm happy with that, I love to race and feel like I bounce back quicker than most. I'm also excited to see whether I can truly empty the tank and have the race I was looking for in Kona but never found. One more big weekend and another week or so of ramping back up and then I'll see you out in Tempe!!