Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hawaii Ironman Triathlon - Kona Race Report

Here is my Kona race report. I enjoyed writing it. I tried to bring you along for the race as well as some insights into how I was feeling.
This race report is rated PG, due to a reference about needing a cold shower and the use of edited profanity (particularly on the bike.) Enjoy!

Ford Ironman World Championship, October 13, 2007
Kona, Hawaii
Stacy’s Race Report

You can read about the pre-race activities for the week from the previous posts on my blog. This report starts at 4am on Saturday Oct. 13 and ends at midnight on Sunday.

Swim: 1:27:51 (I wanted to go under 1:40 so I'm a happy camper)
T1: 6:33 (It's my first Ironman and there was more time spent changing clothes)
Bike: 7:23:33 (I got to experience the winds of Kona and yes, it hurts to be on your bike that long)
T2: 11:46 (not a typo, there is a really good explanation for this epic T2 time)
Run: 4:34:07 (This was my favorite part of the race, the sunset was amazing)
Finish Time: 13:43:50 (pretty happy with that actually and Lindsey was there with me at the finish :)

Rise and Shine (insert sound of rooster crowing here):
I slept surprisingly well and woke up about 350am, with my alarm set at 4. I got almost 5 hours of sleep. I was tired as the previous two nights sleep had been interrupted with phone calls about flight delays and cancellations for my mom and Lindsey.

Kona Kevin (aka K2), Dan and I were the first to leave to Kona. After getting dressed and having Protein Power Bar, yogurt and a banana and grabbing my special needs bags, we were off. I was still not nervous but simply excited.

Body Marking:
By about 515, K2 and I got in line to check in our special needs bags and for body marking. As we were standing there, Faris al-Sutan walked by. Little did we know then that he was already planning on dropping out of the race completely. Bummer.

I got in the short line for my race number, and when it was my turn for body marking, there was a camera crew right there filming it. This was completely unexpected. When I was done, the camera was still on me and then Kev walked up. He tried to get out of the shot, but I pulled him over to walk with me while the camera was on us. He had his Amino Vital jersey on – couldn’t pass up that opportunity. Plus he is a media ho, so he was enjoying it.

I had to drop off my bike bottles, gel flask and Power Bars at my bike. I also had a picture of Lindsey and a sticker for the Jon Blais foundation that I wanted to carry with me. I also needed to pump up my tires. There was a camera crew there again as well. Jeez, I suppose it is possible I could end up on that NBC show – K2 – you may be right after all. I don't believe it. We will see.

Anyway, I spent maybe 10 minutes at my bike, the shortest time I had ever spent in transition pre-race. Everything else was in my bike and run gear bags. It was actually much simpler to have so little to worry about race morning. I liked it.
State of mind: Calm. What the hell? Where were those nerves? Maybe when I hit the water they would come.

It was now maybe 545am and now I had time to go check out the pros and their bikes. Natasha had already come and gone. As I mentioned, I was over being star struck. That was until I saw Craig Alexander. OH MY GOD! He is now officially the hottest guy (gorgeous in every way) in triathlon and as it turns out – very nice. He was hanging out at his bike by himself and I walked right up to him. While I was drooling on the inside, I was calm, cool and collected while talking to him and we chatted for a couple minutes. I told him to remember to enjoy the day and have fun. Yes, I even tell the pros that! There was no time to snap out of my Alexander encounter with a cold shower - I would have to settle for warm ocean water instead. It was time to get ready for the swim!

After hitting the porta potty, I saw other DC area locals in transition, including Carl Hendricks, Anne Viviani and Paul Graf. Check out the next edition of Tri DC for a feature on these awesome athletes. It was about 630 by now and I found K2.
On our way out of transition we dropped off our pre-swim bags and headed around to the pier and swim entry point. Here we go! And yet – I was still calm. Whatever, I was having fun.

The Swim:
The pros started at 645 and we found ourselves in the water about 5 minutes later. I said goodbye to K2 and told him to, yes, have fun! I headed way to the left of the main pack. K2 went straight in the middle. I started swimming to do a goggle check and make my way out to the start which is about 40 yards from shore.

I stopped swimming at an area about 10 feet behind a small line of people at the start line. There were two, maybe three deep, but that was it. The floating Ford thingy was right there. I looked to my left – only two or three people there - and then looked to my right – there were more there, but not a mass of humanity by any means. Me and a couple other people were treading water in this “hole” in the water. A kayaker was ushering people to move right – we just looked at each other and shook our heads and said, “No way – I’m not moving from this spot!” Any nerves now? Maybe a little, but by no means was I freaked out and could not have been happier with my swim start location. Brian Hain, you were right- of course there wouldn't be 1800 people around me - I had just three or four - awesome!

Before we knew it, there was a countdown and then the cannon went off – BOOM! Here we go! I was now doing the Hawaii Ironman. Un – freaking- believable! I just started swimming, never getting hit or hitting anyone. I got into a groove and tried to catch a draft a couple times. They were either too fast, too slow or swam terribly crooked. Many of these people zig zagged so much I wondered how the hell these people qualified as they surely must end up swimming 3 miles in the end! I didn’t even try to follow them. I then remembered that I forgot to start my watch. It had been less than 5 minutes since the start, so I started it right away.

You don’t have to sight much at Kona as there are people around you and I was close enough to the buoys that sighting was not an issue. What I was really looking forward to was seeing the turn around boat. Finally, it came into view but it still took about 10-15 minutes to get there. They “funnel” everyone into a smaller corridor around the boat and as we got closer, it got more physical.

Most people are just like me – trying to make it through without bodily harm, but some people are downright aggressive. One guy practically swam over me and I actually yelled at him and called him an inconsiderate jerk (ah, maybe I inserted a word starting with an f and ending with a g before the word jerk– I can’t remember :) What an ass he was. I stayed calm and just tried to make it through this washing machine of human bodies.

It remained more crowded on the 1.2 miles back to the pier and was able to catch a draft a couple times, but it never lasted long. Again, I saw more crooked swimmers at Kona that at any local race in the DC area. You should all be very proud of yourselves, because some of these people were out of control.

It seemed to take FOREVER to get back, but finally we made it. I climbed the stairs up to the hoses to rinse off the salt and looked at my watch. It said 1:29 something and I was ecstatic – as I had remembered that I also forgot to start my watch right away. I was pumped and let out a “WooooHooo!”. I had just swum under 1:30! I was hoping to go sub 1:40, so this was awesome news. I smiled the whole way to grab my bike gear bag and head to T1.

I entered the change tent and chatted with the volunteer assigned to help me. At Ironman, you get your own personal volunteer – particularly when there aren’t a lot of other people around. She was a sweetheart and was like a grandma and I thanked her as I gave her a kiss on the cheek before heading out of the tent. I had a long way to run around transition at the pier to get to my bike. The racks were very empty. I am used to that though and told those around me, “Let’s go catch some of some of those swimmers”. I am such a geek, but I didn’t care.

I got to my rack and with my bike headed out of T1. It’s funny, while it was different in many ways then other races, Kona is still the same in other ways. You still have to grab your bike, mount when they tell you and head out on the road, just like any other race. But what is obviously so different in the crowd size and enthusiasm. I was pumped and after getting on my bike and heading up to Palani Drive, I got the crowd cheering and yelling on my way out. This was a once in a lifetime thing and I was going to enjoy the hell out of it! WoooooHoooooo! Here we go, baby, the bike.

The Bike:

After riding about 10 miles in town, you head up Palani to the Queen K and then out to the airport and eventually Hawi. There are some up hill sections to the airport, but nothing that big. Just rollers really. There was no wind at this point. No head wind, no tail wind and no cross wind. Maybe a light breeze but that was it. I didn’t want to jinx it and tried not to think about it too much, but just wanted to take advantage of these amazing conditions.

The first 40 or so miles were incredible. I was actually having fun (this was my main goal after all). I cheered and thanked volunteers as I passed through aid stations. Their support is amazing and they are as pumped as the athletes and are masters at passing off water bottles and food.

I was riding along enjoying the ride and then the NBC camera crew came by. We chatted as they filmed me and then there was a down hill. While on my training bike rides when I have a long straight away or down hill, I say out loud or think to myself, “I feel the need for speed!” Scott Talbott and Roy Rumsey will remember this from one of our rides. My thought is not original, but it works for me (and I get a visual of a very hot Tom Cruise in Top Gun).
I felt that need at the time and took off. Whoooo, freaking Hoooooo - again! I was flying! I will remember this moment with great envy many times throughout the latter part of the bike ride.

Eventually, we made the slight turn to the left on the road and climb up to Hawi. Here we go. There were some slight climbs to start. Ok. Not too bad at all – thanks Susan Gantz for taking us on those hellacious bike rides with real hills! We need to do more of those. So, the hills were doable. Nothing scary, nothing real steep. Just gradual climbs and although sometimes they were long, they were still manageable. What we don’t have here in Virginia is the wind.

The wind started fairly soon after the turn up to Hawi. It was a headwind and hit you right in the face. Ok. It’s Hawaii and can be windy. “I am not being blown off my bike, I am ok, stay calm and just keep pedaling” I tell myself. So, for the next 18 or so miles, I just kept pedaling – into the wind with a gradual uphill.

I had few good moments on the way up to Hawi and tried to stay positive mentally. This was the challenge – it wasn’t a physical challenge – but a mental one. I started to wonder if I could make the bike cutoff. I had never considered this as a factor in my six months of training and preparation. “Stay calm, keep pedaling – you are almost there” I tell myself.

The final climb is a bitch. You are spent, you just want to turn around and get your special needs bag and the ride down hill out of Hawi, which I needed more than air and water at this point. The crowd and volunteer support was great here as well. I finally made the turnaround and grabbed my special needs bag.

I am riding along with my bag as the first thing I grab is a plastic bag with tampons in it. I didn’t need them and put them in there as a precaution. I put them back in the bag and next I pull out a baggy with Skittles and Twizzlers candy. Oh boy! I put that right into my RATs bike jersey. Then I pull out Ibuprofen. Just in case. Ok, things are looking up. Finally, I grab the peanut butter crackers. Oh yeah, here is the meal equivalent of a steak with a baked potato with butter and sour cream. Allright! I am feeling good. Let’s go, baby. We have a long down hill coming up and you are ready to have a feast. Yeah! I drop the special needs bag and finally I get aero for the first time in a very long time as I munch away at my candy and crackers.

It is a great opportunity to make up time for the long climb. I am flying and enjoying the ride downhill. Thank God! Then out of blue - BAMB! A brutal cross wind. Holy Shit! What the F? I was pushed several feet to the right by the wind that came from the left and I almost lost control of my bike. What is going on? I am going downhill and this wind is going to not only slow me down but practically blow me off my bike? I slow down. BAMB! Again. Shit! Ok. Get out of aero and hang on. Keep pedaling. Ok, ok, ok. It’s ok. Hang on. Stay calm. Cadence. Keep it up and hang on. BAMB! Another strong gust of wind. Fu**! You have got to be kidding me! Well, this is what I had heard about. Lucky me, I get to experience it first hand.

We finally get past this point in the ride that is notorious for its brutal crosswinds and I finally get aero again. I actually have a few good moments here but still…what is up ahead? One of the brightest moments of the ride down from Hawi was at about mile 70 when I knew I would make the cutoff and maybe or even probably, I would be an Ironman. I got teary eyed.

We get to the turn to head back to Kona on the Queen K. Finally. Thank God. I know this road pretty well now. Some rollers to come, many are climbs but they are doable. Right turn. “Kailua Kona – 26” the highway sign says. Ok. 26 miles to go. I can do this.

I make the turn and immediately feel a headwind right in my face! “Are you f**king kidding me?” I actually said that out loud to no one in particular. I was delusional to think that the conditions would be the same as when I was here just a few short hours ago with no wind, at all. Keep dreaming, Stacy.

Here comes the biggest lesson of all my training and racing since doing marathons back in my early 20s. Never, ever, ever, give up mentally. Physically, of course it happens, you have to listen to your body. Sometimes you just can’t go faster or you can’t go on. But mentally, you always can do more than you think. That last 15 or so miles of the bike was the hardest time for me ever in all my racing over all these years. And it was all mental. I let the wind beat me. I gave in. I didn’t try. I was upright most of the time. Physically I was feeling pretty good. Sure I was sore, I was tired, but I wasn’t beat physically. I was beat mentally. My mind wasn’t allowing my body to push harder. This is a huge lesson for me, and a good one. Don’t ever let your mind beat you.

The greatest sight on the bike is when you can see the airport. You know that you have less than 10 miles to go and much of it is downhill. It was time to think about T2 and the run. I wasn’t hating my bike at this point, but really, really wanted to start running. I wanted to do anything at that point except be on my bike against that wind.

As when I left 7 hours + before, the crowds were amazing. The pro men had finished and the first pro women were finishing and I had a marathon to run. But I was ready. I never let that distance get to me even during my mental struggle on the bike. I knew I could do this. The positive mental strength was coming back.

I love transitions. It’s a time to think about what is next. You are ready for something new, something different. In this case it was a marathon. My T2 time: 11:46. What the hell, Stacy? You are a master of transitions. What the heck were you doing in there? Some people have been asking me. Two reasons for this epic T2 time.

First, I got my period in the last part of the bike. When I first got into the transition tent, I asked, “Do you have a tampon?” They had one there for me immediately. Enough said.

The second reason my time was slow was that I simply took my time. I did not hurry whatsoever. This race is different and I had a personal assistant (volunteer) to help me. I visited the porta potty and then chatted with my personal assistant about the bike. She had heard it was pretty brutal. They really pay attention to you to make sure you are ok. I was ok. And after 11 minutes and 46 seconds, I took off on my marathon.

The Run:
I took off on the run and saw my daughter Lindsey. I was heading up Palani out of T2 and she was there with Tony. She said, “Mom, I am so proud of you”. “Thank you baby”. The bike was brutal, I almost got blown off my bike” I told them. Why I said that I don’t know but that is what I said. But it helped me realize that it was time to let the bike go.

So I did. I felt so good. I moved on to the run. My legs were not jellowy at all ( I love bricks!) Remember, I didn’t leave it out there on the bike physically, but rather just mentally. I was moving and began to pass people on the run. I felt strong and my first 10 miles flew by. It is so cool to run down Alii drive like that. You head south on Alii drive for about five miles and then back up to the Hot Corner and up Palani to the Queen K and then out to the Energy Lab. The next time I would be on Alii Drive was right at the end for about the last half mile or so.

I was out on the Queen K for about 2 miles and then the sun was setting. There were no clouds that day – at all – which makes for a perfect sunset. I had never watched a sunset as I ran and it simply was the second most perfect moment of my entire day. It was beautiful and it energized me even more.

The run is on the same course as the bike up until the Energy Lab, about 6 miles out of Kona. I still felt so good – it was amazing. I had my Clif Shot Blocks, which since setting my PR at the Lake Anna Half on Sept. 8, I now refer to as my “Magic Little Pieces of Candy”. These things are amazing and I was so tired of gel.

It was getting very dark (the sun sets about 615pm) and I grabbed the first of my two glow sticks at an aid station at about mile 15. So cool – I was running with a glow stick. All those super fast people just don’t know what they’re missing. It was like a badge of honor – I had a glow stick!

I made it to the Energy Lab turn off, took the left and headed down. It was pitch black – there were very few lights and I couldn’t see a thing, most of the time, I couldn’t even see the pavement in front of me. K2 told me later that when he ran down there (in daylight) he felt like he was running on the moon. I suppose that is true, except I was running on the “Dark Side of the Moon”, although Pink Floyd was not in sight, there were no laser lights and I wasn’t stoned :)

I was at about mile 18 just before the turn around and Special Needs handoff at the Energy Lab when the NBC camera crew showed up. “Hey Stacy” they said. “What’s up guys? This is a long day for you too” I say. I was still feeling pretty good at this point, so I took advantage of the moment. “Who won?” I asked. “McCormack. “Chris McCormack”, he said. Macca! Yes, it was my prediction for the men! I knew he wanted it more than the others. Awesome! How about the women? No response. Who won for the women? I already knew Natascha was out and saw her along the Queen K at about mile 5 on the bike with a broken collar bone and had seen that Desiree had blown up on the Queen K during the run when I was coming in on my bike, but I was clueless after that. One guy answered very quietly. “Wellington”. Who? “Wellington”. “Wellington? Who the heck is that?” I asked. Jeez, what a crazy day, I thought. “How did the Americans do?” I asked. They couldn’t provide much information. Oh well, I would find out later.

I reach the run Special Needs bag hand off but I wasn’t as excited about it as I was on the bike. They didn’t have it ready when I ran by, but a volunteer grabbed it, and ran to catch up with me in his flip flops. These volunteers are awesome. He may have been motivated by the camera crew filming me during this time, but I was happy he caught up to us and I got my bag. The NBC guys said I was looking strong. Thanks guys! I don’t have much of an ego, but what little there is, you just gave it a boost.

I ran with the bag for a while as it was pitch black, and I wouldn’t have been able to tell if I was grabbing the bag with the tampons or Twizzlers. I waited to get what I wanted out of the bag until I could see using the few lights which were set up at the Ford Motivational section, right before you leave the Energy Lab at about mile 19.5. Once there I ate a couple Skittles, a piece of a Twizzler and tossed the rest. It was time to concentrate on getting to the finish.

There is a bit of a climb out of the Energy Lab and when you get back to the Queen K, you can’t help but pick up the pace. Allright. We had about 6 miles to go – mostly downhill. I had resisted the cola until about mile 17 and hadn’t tried the chicken broth until this point, but now it was time to partake in the nectar of the Ironman gods. Forget the water, Gatorade and gel. Bring on the nectar. It was all Cola, all Chicken Broth for the next few miles (I did take water) but I was even getting tired of my life saving Clif Shot Blocks.

At about mile 20, the NBC guys caught up with me again. “Hi Stacy” they said. “Hey guys”, I said. “How are feeling?” they asked. I had slowed considerably since they last saw me. “I hit the wall at about mile 19, heading out of the Energy Lab.” I told them this was to be expected and was simply focused on the finish and seeing Lindsey there. They wished me well and said that they would catch me at the finish. “Ok, see you guys there”.

Never had I had this much concentration and focus on a race ever. Having the pitch black night surrounding me may have helped, but I seemed to be running through a dark tunnel with the orange lights of Kona and the finish line in the distance at the end of the tunnel. Wow man, what a trip, maybe I was stoned after all.

Other runners and volunteers commented on how strong I looked and I thanked them, but I was simply on a mission. To finish and become and Ironman with Lindsey there with me. Nothing else mattered. I just kept running. It’s funny, my mantras all day were: “Stay Calm. Keep swimming, keep pedaling, keep running”. That’s all you need to do for Ironman. It's very simple, really. Just keep moving forward, no matter the speed.

Amazingly, there were still people heading out to the Energy Lab as I made my way back into town. While it felt much later, it was only just after 8pm. They had almost four hours to finish – plenty of time. I saw Scott Rigsby who would become the first double leg amputee to finish an Ironman. His story is heart wrenching. Go buddy, you can do it.

I made it back to Palani Drive. It is down hill after that, you make a left down the Kaliki Highway (or something spelled like that) and then down to Alii Drive. I had walked up and down Alii all week, I even ran and biked parts of it, but this was something else. I was now running down Alii toward the finish. I kept looking for Lindsey. People were cheering like crazy and I had slowed considerably, just to enjoy the moment.

Have you ever had a dream that seemed so real that when you woke up you couldn’t believe it wasn’t true? I had the opposite happen. I was awake, and yet it seemed like a dream. I couldn’t believe it was happening, but it was real.

After a couple minutes, I finally saw her. Lindsey was standing there waiting for me in her Army uniform. She looked so beautiful and I ran up, stopped and gave her a big hug. We began to run holding hands and the crowd was amazing, cheering us the entire way.

Very close to the finish, a woman fell right in front of us. I had seen her earlier up on the highway and encouraged her to continue, but at this point, she was simply in the way. There was a guy helping her, so we ran around her. There was nothing I could do, but I thought, “Jeez, you are 20 feet away from the finish, you couldn’t make it the rest of the way”?

Anyway, the finish was amazing. I was so happy to have Lindsey there with me. She does not like people paying special attention to her at all, but she was so supportive with me at the finish. There were all kinds of cameras on us and she met Rob Vigorito, and Jon Blais’ parents and she had no clue who they were. But she was gracious and polite to them and helped me through the finish area.

Post Race:

I was walking pretty well and made it over to get my medal. My mind was starting to get kind of fuzzy and I knew I needed some real food. I had lost my voice sometime during the day and I wasn’t talking well. We made our way to a restaurant overlooking the finish and ordered some food. I needed protein – badly. I had some yummy coconut crusted Tilapia and rice with water and a diet coke. Perfect. Finally, my head was clearing up a bit, but I was tired. It was now around 1030 and I wanted to stick around and watch the finish until midnight.

Watching an Ironman for the last couple of hours is something everyone should witness at least once. While you may have been done for hours, these people were still out there – pushing their bodies beyond a pain threshold they certainly had passed hours ago. These last Ironmen are tougher mentally than you or I. Scott Rigsby came in with less than 15 minutes left and there was maybe only one or two after that. Then it was midnight. Almost silence at this point – no one left to cheer and encourage across the line. Kind of sad really, as we all wanted to keep the party going and welcome more Ironmen home.

This day I will never forget. From the moment the cannon went off to start the swim, to the wind on the bike, the sunset on the run and finally the finish with Lindsey, this will go down as one of the best and most rewarding days of my life.

From Macca to Kona Kevin and me to Scott Rigsby and all those that finish Kona or any other Ironman race and regardless of our finish times, we all have something that no one can ever take away from us. We Are all An Ironman.

Lindsey, baby, I could not do all this without your support and understanding. I love you more than I could ever put into words, I am so happy you were there with me. You told me you want to do this race someday, so I say that the next time we are in Kona – I will hold your hand across the finish line and you too will become an Ironman!
I love you, baby.


Jonathan Kelly said...

Congratulations Stacy. I'm only beginning my triathlon journey but hopefully someday I'll become and Ironman just like you.

Stacy Taylor: 2007 Lottery Winner - Kona Hawaii Ford Ironman Triathlon Championship said...

Thank you. And enjoy your journey.

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