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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kona 2014

I've been here in Kona for a month now. It was great to get here early as I had the opportunity to spend some time with Matt Dixon and Paul Buick and work on a whole lot of things which was extremely beneficial to me. I was in the form of my life going into this race, especially on the bike, that was the thing that was going the best (believe it or not!), and so I was super excited to get out there and race. I had worked the hardest I had ever worked, was in the best shape, certainly the most well prepared (thanks to Matt and Paul's help) and also was feeling the freshest I have ever been going into the race. In years gone past my cycling has always been my weakest leg in Kona, but it was going so well before the race. A whole year of working on so many skills and everything finally was clicking into place and I was filled with confidence, in the end I think my cycling time really isn't a reflection at all of where I was at, but in every Ironman there are so many people with stories of where things went wrong. That is the beauty of the sport in a way. Such a long day that there are so many things that could go wrong, and often your result is a reflection of not your physical shape at the time, but how well you dealt with any problems. I had to race the race sick, but I dealt with things extremely well. I am immensely proud with how I raced. I never gave up, I never let negative thoughts take hold, I plowed on despite racing at a level on the bike so below what I knew I was capable of, and in the end I came up with my 4th top 10 performance at the World Champs (8th place), and to me it was one of my most gutsiest performances and it is those kind of race days that you will remember and cherish in the future.

The night before the race was a bit strange in that a car alarm went off outside our window on two occasions waking me so I finally got into my main sleep only at around midnight. I guess it was then this lack of sleep that resulted in my managing to sleep through my alarm. I know that is always a triathletes nightmare, but it never actually happens to anyone right? I always wake just before my alarm, and so when I woke, I checked my watch and  thought that could not possibly be the time, and ran out to look at the oven and the clock on the wall. They were all the same. I ran round in a panic, stuffed in my breakfast in about 5 minutes (something that usually takes me around 40 mins because of nerves) and then rushed to the transition. I was just lucky I woke up when I did and not at my normal time of 6.30am which would have resulted in me missing the start! I felt fine, did all my usual routine, then headed over to put on my Roka swim skin and take my Powerbar Gel with some water as I always do 30min before race start. That sent me over the edge. I threw up just a little and thought, well that is ok that it was just a little and not my entire stomach, at which point I then projectile vomited my stomach contents luckily into some bushes, which was a great way to start the day for the spectators around me I am sure. After that I felt much better (although Brett looked incredibly shocked as I left him) and headed straight to the swim start. I thought it was just the fact I had eaten my breakfast so fast and so close to race start, but post race and into the night I had some issues, so it was a stomach bug. Luckily I have been exactly in that position before (Ironman France 2012), so I knew I could feel weak like I did on that day, but I managed to place 2nd in that race, and I knew mentally I am very strong and could still get to the finish line, and that once the gun went off that that would be my focus and any pain is very much pushed to the back through determination.

So to the race. My swim was going very well heading into the race. I knew the pace would be a lot greater than last year, but luckily I am now swimming 5 seconds per one hundred meters faster than I was a year ago thanks to the work with Matt Dixon. I sprinted as best I could, I didn't feel that energetic and got into a group and then tried to work out where I was and what was happening. I saw I had Caroline Steffen and Rachel Joyce but I also saw a big gap in front of them to the lead group. That is where I want to be, so I went around them and sprinted my guts out for a few hundred metres and got onto the feet of number 112. 7 people in the group including me. I decided to sit on the back and try and save some energy, as I knew I would need it given my condition for the rest of the race. I was cruising along and not looking up enough, just content to sit on number 112 feet. But when I looked up I saw a huge gap in front of 112 to the rest of the group. So I had to sprint past and that took me until the very end of the swim (maybe 800m of very hard work). I put a long sleeve top on in transition and so I needed to be as far up the field as possible out of the swim as I knew I would lose some valuable seconds in transition. When I reached the girls in front there were only 2, as the other 3 must have split and had about a 30 second gap. So I came out of the water in 55 minutes in 6th position.

SOAS had gone to the trouble of making me my long sleeve top which I love. It does lose me a bit of time in transition in this non wetsuit race, as we can't wear it under swimskins as we would be able to do in a wetsuit swim, but once onto the bike it means I can pour water on it at every aid station and stay much cooler (and both this year and last year I think it has prevented me from blowing up on the later stages of the cycle). Also I don't have to deal with sunburn. The sunburn is so harsh here (and any sunscreen just tends to be sweated out straight away), and I have found that in previous Kona experiences being burnt on the bike does effect my run. Usually I am very energetic coming out of the swim and my greatest strength has always been my first 20k of the race. Last year I lost about 30 seconds in transition but was able to sprint up to the lead group of 10 in the first 3 or 4k of the race. This year I just didn't have the legs. I guess that is understandable. I had an empty stomach, and then had swum hard for nearly an hour (I would never do that in training and expect myself to bike well). It took me until 12k or so until I caught Liz Blatchford and Amanda Stevens, and then just after that the second pack of Joyce, Steffen, Ryf, Cave, Vesterby came past and the pace was greatly increased. I just had nothing in my legs to up my pace.

My biggest concern was trying to get some calories and even more importantly hydration into me, but every sip of drink made me feel incredibly nauseous. My body didn't want to accept anything, but I knew I had no hope in hell of getting to the finish line if I did not take on this fuel and hydration in this heat. I forced myself to eat and drink. I tried my electrolyte drink, plain water, water mixed with coke, plain coke, everything made me feel so sick but I never got sick, which was very positive (I think the 3 months I spent pregnant dealing with nausea really helped me here!), the energy and hydration was going in, I would be able to replace what I had lost pre race but it would take time to come around. The bike was quite windy. At around 50k I caught back up to Leanda Cave and Michelle Vesterby during a very windy section (it was crosswinds and headwind at this point) but then I lost them going down the hill to the turn to Hawi. It was a very stiff head wind going towards Hawi. Just before the turn around I was caught by a group of Julia Gajer, Mirinda Carfrae, Heather Wurtele, Catriona Morrison, Liz Lyles and Simone Braendli. I couldn't stay with them I had nothing in my legs. At the turn around I was grateful to have a bit of a tail wind and be going down hill. Fellow Ceepo rider Bree Wee came past but she didn't get too far in front of me as I began to feel a lot, lot better. I passed Braendli and then on the longish climb back up to the Queen K passed Bree. Back on the Queen K we had a lovely tail wind. I felt great and passed Catriona Morrison who had blown up. I usually blow up on this section of the course, but today I was just getting into my groove. I was hoping this tail wind would take us all the way to the end of the bike course, but oh no, it was a lovely tail wind but only for about 5k. With around 45k to go the wind switched to a stiff head wind for the remainder of the race. Damn it!! One of those pretty much double head wind days that you so often get at Kona. My final bike split was pretty poor compared to the top girls (mostly due to the time lost in the first half of the race), but funnily I didn't feel that I was passed by any more AG men than I did last year (I believe this was because the wind just picked up as the day progressed). Last year we had an extra 5 minutes head start to the AG men (25 minutes), this year only 20 minutes. But only a handful, maybe 7 or 8 caught me, and they were all single not in group, so that was a relief as before the race I was quite worried I would be caught by hundreds of men and that it would interfere with my race, but it didn't. I biked all day by myself and had a controlled race, which although was slower than I knew I was capable of, at least I knew I could run off well. That was one of the things that kept me going. Every year in Kona there are the top women who can obviously bike very fast and still run well off the bike. But every year there are a few who I think push beyond their means and suffer on the run. Every year I have managed to run myself into the top 10 (4 times now) even if I have a very much below par bike ride. The only woman to pass me in the last stage of the race was Yvonne Van Vlerken. She asked me to legally work with her, and I said yes I will try, but in all honesty she had come from a way back and was biking faster. I did a few turns with her for perhaps 5k which was a nice motivating factor to finally have someone on this very long day to look at and help motivate my pace. But once we got to the airport I had to think about stretching out my calves. In my last few IM races I have taken 7k to come right on the run with sore calves, so I had a calf stretching protocol which meant I could run well right from the beginning on this day. So I came off the bike with a 5.17 split in 18th position with a lot of work to do.

At the beginning of the run I just wanted to dive into the first portaloo I saw, but I forced myself to keep going and see if I could make it to the next one, and eventually that feeling just disappeared and I could focus on the race. It was very cool on the run, cloud cover, which was nice, but it also meant it was less likely that anyone in front would have any issues and I would need to work even harder. I focused on my form, on running well and doing all the things Matt had taught me. After Frankfurt where I had a great first half on the run, but then fell apart, we worked out I definitely need to do some longer runs, and so my run mileage had really gone up since July and I was confident that I would run a pace that I could pretty much hold all day. I started ticking people off. It was a bit of a blur but I think it was Stevens, Vesterby, Cave, Kessler, Van Vlerken, Blatchford, Lyles which took me back into town from the dog leg down Alii Drive and back, so around 15k done. We then headed up Palani the killer hill and I could see Wurtele and passed her soon after. I was then in 8th position. I was feeling good throughout. The aid stations are nice and close and we also have "Pro Fluids" on this course and I was no longer feeling sick so could get plenty down. I headed into the Energy Lab and to the turn around at around 30 or 32 k. I had about 1 minute to Lyles and around 90 sec to Blatchford. I ran up the climb back to the Queen K. My quads really started to hurt at this point with around 10k to go. I then heard Lyles just behind me. She has a great back half to her marathons. At 20k I was at around 1.25 on the clock so just under 1.30 for 21k I imagine. And then I ended up with a 3.01 run split, so really even for me. But Liz who ended up with a 3.03 run split (so about 2 minutes in total slower than me) ran a lot faster in this last part of the course than I did, and that was with the Energy Lab and the stiff head wind going back into town. So now I was back in 9th. My quads were just really killing me, but I was catching Mary Beth Ellis. We had one last climb up to the turn down Palani for the last mile and I caught her here. I really wanted to enjoy this last mile through the crowds but I thought she was right behind me and was "sprinting" as best I could. I was very glad when I finally saw the finish line and could stop. I ended up with the 3rd fastest female run split of the day, and certainly the best ever run I have ever had in Kona.

So another 8th position. I have been 8th, 7th, 9th and 8th now. Although comparing my 8th in 2008 with my 8th in 2014, 2008 was a walk in the park as the standard of female racing has improved that much. I do really want to make it into that top 5 next time. I know I can do it. I have lots to still work at, and I will be back in another year I am sure for yet another crack. Mirinda Carfrae was just stunning yet again. She ran a 2.50 marathon, which I think was faster than all but 2 or 3 pro men!!! I know she is extremely talented, but I do think the men might need to raise their running game a bit! Sebastian Kienle was simply supreme on the bike. He was my pick for the win ever since I raced with him at Kraichgau and at Frankfurt. I was pretty sure after seeing his performances that there would be no one that could beat him this year.

So many people to thank. My husband who has really taken on a greater load these last 2 months as I was a lot more focused for the race than ever before. Matt and Paul from Purplepatch for believing in me, and helping me so much this year to improve and of course my amazingly supportive sponsors. Ceepo, Powerbar, Rolf Prima, SOAS, Asics, Rudy Project, SRAM, Cobb, Roka, Keywin, Sweet Cheeks, and thanks also to Will Kelsay from Friction Facts for the treated SRAM chain I used during the race!