HO’OMAU – perseverance, determination, endurance
177 days earlier I was sitting in the Tsitsikamma Room of the Boardwalk hotel in PE and had just accepted a slot to the Ironman World Champs and now the day had finally arrived for me to head off to the Big Island. I finally arrived in Kona in the early hours of friday 3rd morning after months of hard training and 48hrs after leaving cape town. I was hoping 8 days would be perfect for me to settle in and acclimatise.
I was very happy to be staying 5kms out of town in a b&b, away from the busy town where nerves would be building prior to race day and also slightly cooler. My home away from home was perfect and the owners extremely friendly and knowledgeable (ironman volunteers and a kona ironman)
On the Saturday morning, a week before race day, an ironman training swim was held – basically a chance for the athletes to swim the IM course and get another medal and t shirt! It was my first swim in Kona and wow it was amazing! It really was like swimming in an aquarium!; so many different kinds of fish frolicking below. I was just using this to get a feel for the current and sightings plus a continuous 4km swim rather than in the pool. I was very happy to swim the 3.8km (non wetsuit) in just over 1 hr 11 mins.
The next few days consisted of training – enjoying the coffee boat, experiencing the looooong hot windy road through the lava fields on the bike route and running along Ali’i Drive – registration, expo, bike and run route recce, parade of nations, underpants run, pre race banquet and resting. You don’t realise how much the pre race week takes out of you – getting to know the surroundings, meeting new people, enjoying the whole experience and all the while nerves are building so it was important to make a conscious effort to rest and keep out of the sun.
Friday, bike racking day, arrived before I knew it. Faffing with my trainer laces for an hour probably kept my mind occupied before going down to rack mid afternoon, although at the time felt quite stressful! Note to self – make sure you are happy with your kit long before race day!
Spectators lined the street to ogle at the bikes and athletes as we queued to rack our bikes. Branded t shirts / visors/ water bottles were handed out to athletes using their products (Cannondale and enve for me) Brands of bikes, wheels, sunglasses, swimskins were all noted for the annual count. We were assigned a volunteer to take us through bike racking and hanging up our bags. The whole process worked like clockwork. Although we were taken through in reverse ie hung up our run bag then bike bag – a bit much for my brain to cope with!
2000+ athletes queued up for body marking like lambs being led to slaughter. Nerves and excitement made for stunted conversations. We were weighed in and then continued on into the transition area.
We had no access to our bike or run bags on race morning so all I needed to do was put my bottles and nutrition on my bike and pump up my tyres. Should have taken 5 minutes but for some reason the pump kept blowing off the rear wheel valve at 7 bar. Time seemed to be ticking rapidly away and the pros were about to start! The air of calm which had been surrounding me had vanished and a slightly panic-stricken Jennylonglegs was on show. Fortunately after some calming words from a friend and the suggestion of using a different pump my wheel was sorted!
We weren’t allowed to enter the water until the age-group men had started (10 mins before our start) but at least this meant we wouldn’t have too long in the water before our start. As we treaded water race faces were on and hearts were pounding…then BOOM, the starting cannon was fired.
It was the quickest 11.16 hours of my life yet the toughest and most painful.
Even though we had a separate ladies start, so only about 500 athletes, it was the most vicious swim starts I’ve been in. Punching and kicking everywhere! I was hoping to get into a rhythm quickly but it took a while to find some space. I feel sorry for some of the slow age-group men who got swum over; very hard not to due to being boxed in.
Nemo/Jennylonglegs just kept swimming and although it did feel like a mammoth swim (most people’s watches read 4.1km) an hour and 13 minutes later I was back onto land. Body and legs were feeling great.
I knew the first few kays on the bike would be a bit hectic with so many athletes and obviously I was a bit paranoid of getting a drafting penalty!
We were quickly onto the Queen K and a tailwind meant everything felt great. But all of a sudden the winds picked up and there were headwinds and sidewinds of note! (Apparently the worst in 15 years of the race)
Just over an hour into the bike I suddenly felt my legs tightening. No….not cramp already I thought?? Time to take my anti-cramp tablets…..but where are they??? I searched through my pouch to no avail! Where had they gone?? Aggghhh! (I found them after the race in my pre-swim bag 🙁 ) Suddenly my race plan changed to I need to complete this race! Yes my legs were failing me already but surely if I eased off the power I could maintain a decent but steadier pace? The cramping came and went throughout the bike leg. I had an awesome decent from the turnaround at Hawi and briefly thought the cramping was over and I’d have a great ride back to T2 but then more headwinds and gusty sidewinds meant for a long slog back.
You think you will have so much time to put the world to right during 180kms of continuous road but I have no idea what I was thinking about for those 6 hours except when to take my nutrition, how much to drink, not to draft! and how to manage my cramping. The water stations were every 7 miles or so – and much needed. I was continuously trying to keep my body cool pouring water over it as well as keeping hydrated but not over-hydrating. (And I must admit…..I am now a member of the peeing on the bike club!)
I came into T2, jumped off my bike, let a volunteer catch it and nearly collapsed onto the ground. Where had my legs gone?!! There’s jelly-like and there is non existent! This marathon was going to be…..interesting!
The first water station seemed to take ages to get to….not because I was still trying to find my legs which were obviously somewhere on Queen K but because I had tried to eat an oat bar as I left transition and my dry mouth was now almost stuck together so breathing was slightly restricted!
My pace for the first 5kms was spot on… but then all of a sudden my energy had rapidly been depleted. The water stations were every mile and I made use of everything! Water over my head, ice down my front, drinks, banana…. anything to get me back on track! By the way….Red Bull doesn’t give you wings! But I was willing to try anything!! (Dont worry I have drunk red bull before so know it agrees with my stomach)
The 16km out and back along Ali’i drive was done and now it was time to hit the Queen K along to the Energy Lab. I had now adopted the I-can-walk-at-every-water-station-but-not-inbetween method and my body seemed to be able to cope with this. I was running with ice in my hands to try keep me cool as even though the sky had clouded over the heat was still bouncing off the tarmac. Not only did my legs feel like lead but my lower back muscles were aching as was my left shoulder.
The Queen K seems to go on forever. The view in the distance of the next water station a mile ahead kept me going. I missed the support of familiar faces along the route. No words of encouragement. It was a lonely road. A long road. A mind game. But I kept looking up to the sky and knew everyone back home (SA and UK) were all rooting for me. I didn’t want to let them down.
Approaching the end of the Queen K I could hear Coldplay’s A Sky Full of Stars being played (Fate!; as this was my pre-race song!) which gave me a much needed boost. As I ran down Palani road my hamstrings started to cramp but I knew I just had to push through. The finish line was less than a kay away and was pulling me. Crowds lined the streets and my last ounce of energy pushed me over the finish line. Happy, exhausted, emotional and almost surreal. I was an Ironman. A Kona Ironman and I had just completed the toughest race in the world.
They say if you’re still married after Ironman training you didn’t train hard enough….I’d say I trained pretty hard!!!….I definitely need to use my few weeks of rest wisely and spend time with my husband, family and friends before my next mission commences.
Kona has definitely added fuel to the fire and I am now hungrier than ever to achieve my goals. I have heaps to improve on and I’m looking forward to some seriously tough training sessions!
I know I might be anal about sticking to my program but why get a coach to give you a program if you’re not going to stick to it? If you go too hard in a session, when its supposed to be an easy session, chances are you wont perform as well as you should the next day. The variety in intensity and duration is there for a reason and your overall performance will increase if you perform your sessions as prescribed. And I respect my coach and the effort he puts into writing a program for me therefore its only fair for me to put in the effort by sticking to it. A huge thanks to Dave for getting me to Kona injury free and in the best shape of my life.
I met so many fantastic people from all over the world whilst in Kona. All so friendly and obviously very like minded! It was an experience in itself to be surrounded and racing amongst the best athletes in the world. My race might not have gone exactly to plan or the outcome exactly as I’d hoped but on the day I gave it my all and I am proud of my achievement; I am a Kona finisher and have the medal and t shirt to prove it!
Mahalo (thanks) to all my sponsors, friends and family for all your support.
My next challenge?….working out how to fund another trip to Kona!
(And yes writing this took longer than the race!!)