Wednesday, November 9, 2011

2011 Kona Race Report

Happy Iron-versary*!! I'm posting my RR from a month ago. Enjoy!
I worked so damn hard for that wristband.

* I meant to post this yesterday, but was still on East coast time from NYC and just got lazy last night.

Before I launch into all the details of my race in Kona, I first want to say how fortunate I am for my health that I can cover the 140.6 miles of an Ironman and also my lifestyle that I can take the time to train and enter events like Ironman. I know how hard I work and I also know the things I sacrifice, but if I ever feel the lows (and there are some) of a long season, I quickly remind myself that this is all “for fun,” not everyone has the opportunity to race an Ironman, and that I really, truly love this sport.

After a successful finish in Coeur d’Alene, I was given a break in training and racing. My workouts were planned to focus on recovery and maintain fitness before training for my next big event. I had a couple “fun” or “B race” events thrown in there – Seafair sprint and Lake Stevens 70.3. They were both enjoyable, but left me a little disappointed in my times and missing the “race ready” feeling I had in CdA. Still, looking back I know I needed the mid-season break. A season that starts with a marathon in January and ends with an Ironman in October is long and I knew my Kona build was going to be tough.

My Kona experience in 2010 was great and there isn’t anything I would have done differently. I had a very solid day and enjoyed every minute of the grueling race. But for 2011 I wanted more; I wanted to see where I stacked up against the competition.  After CdA Kainoa, very objectively, asked me what I wanted in Kona, “Do you want to race it?” My answer was most definitely yes, which I think she already knew. So she bumped up my swimming to 4 days a week and both my cycling and running miles were also up. My longest week of workouts topped out close to 30 hours, which included approximately 10 miles of swimming, 40 miles of running, and 350 miles biking. Other random statistics from that week: 3 beer showers (one before work – joking), 12 bananas, 13 hill repeats, too many gels to count, 3 long training days in 95+ degree heat, 1 full-time job, and zero mental breakdowns – success!

Bike Check
So with some solid training under my belt, I felt ready as I’d ever be for Kona. I flew out on Tuesday and got to take part in all the Ironman buzz and pre-race festivities. Sydnie flew over with me and we made sure to meet up with friends and teammates for swims off the pier, vendor parties (including the Specialized Shiv launch where they gave out free beer - I had one, and the slowtwitch party where we hung out with a few pros, guys from blueseventy, and engineers from Cervelo and Specialized), multiple stops at Lava Java, trips through the expo, and a pre-race dinner with the team. By Thursday and Friday I made sure to stay rested with my feet up and not get too caught up in the race week buzz.

Real Deal body marking #1841
Saturday morning, I was ready to go. I slept well Friday night and my alarm went off at 4am to make sure my breakfast could digest by 7. I walked down to the pier with Robin, Nina, and Sydnie, went through the motions of body marking, bathroom stops, pumping my bike tires, hugs from friends and teammates, and final words of advice from my coach. Kainoa told me to “stay strong all day,” which became part of my mantra: “strong all day, smart all day, tough all day.”

Swim – I started the swim just right of center about 4 rows back and lined up with Robin. We didn't want to start too far left, as there's typically a pull from the waves headed to shore. It was a good position for me and I started strong, despite the cluster that was at each buoy. I made it to the turn around in decent time, but it was tough coming back. I finished in a disappointing 1:17, but it turns out swim times were slower across the board Saturday morning. I didn't get down on myself and pressed on strong, smart, and tough.

T1 – I ran through the freshwater showers, into the changing tent, and out to my bike. Kara was there, so we exchanged smiles, words of encouragement, and looks of “glad that swim is over.” Kainoa was volunteering in transition and yelled some nice words as I was headed out in 3:11.

Bike – I made the quick loop through town on my way to the Queen K to head out toward the lava fields. I'm not a big fan of the Kona bike course. I like rides that are more hilly and technical, as they compliment my strengths on the bike and are generally more exciting. About 25 miles into the ride, my mind wandered in the monotony of the course and I was caught within the draft zone of another rider and penalized with a 4 minute drafting infraction. At first I was mad and disappointed in myself, as I certainly was not riding "smart." How could I let up during such an important race? But honestly, it allowed me to take some pressure off myself and was reminded that race plans aren't always perfectly executed (especially in Kona). I served my 4 minutes begrudgingly and watched my mph average slowly tick down. On the brightside, Joe and Kara both passed me in the penalty box and I ended up leap frogging with these two the rest of the ride.

The climb to Hawi wasn't as steep or windy as I remembered from 2010. But the winds picked up again as I headed back into town. I finished with a 5:43 bike. Without my penalty, I would have been within my expected time range, so I was feeling pretty good about that. I knew that if I remained strong and tough, I could still put together a race to be proud of.

T2 - I hopped off my bike and ran the perimeter of the pier. (Side note: I had no falls in transition this year compared to the 3 out of 4 tumbles I took during my 2010 IM races! Small victories). In the changing tent I quickly put on my socks, shoes, and visor. I made a stop in the bathroom, as I felt like my guts were about to expload from electrolytes. Luckily, it was all fluid, so I sprinted out of T2 in 4:19 and was ready to run.

Run – When I started the run I knew I wasn't in the position I wanted to be in off the bike. I knew I couldn't make up a lot of ground within such a tough field, but I still wanted to put together a strong run. So I tried to pace myself conservatively and finish within my planned range. It was unbelievable seeing so many friends and teammates from Seattle out on the run course. You truly make high 80s and humid much more pleasant. At mile 10 I was averaging around an 8 minute pace when I ran past Kainoa. She yelled to me, "Stay tough. You're passing a lot of people out there." It was true; I passed over 200 people on he run, unfortunately only 8 were within my age group.

Plenty of salt on my rump to illustrate heat and how much I sweat.
Just like last year mile 11 is where things got real. It's a long out and back stretch to the Natural Energy lab before heading back to the finish. Miles 12-17 were probably the hardest. However, it was really encouraging to have other friends and teammate out there racing. (Gerry, Dustin, Joe, Chris, Lilia, Kara, Robin, Jill, Whitney, Cindy B., Kathryn, Lisa, Cindy R., and Judy - I would have been so embarrased had you caught me at my worst. Knowing you were out there kept me motivated.) Just before the turn around in the Energy Lab, I saw Chris Whyte who yelled at me saying, "Catch me, Cathleen. I've been looking for you to catch me for the last 30 minutes." I knew I could NOT walk in front of Chris, so I made the turn and shuffled up the hill and past him just before heading back on the Queen K. Thank you, Chris, for yelling at me. :) At this point I had about 10k to go and was starting to feel a little stronger and tougher. Finally, I was turning right on Palani and past my friends and teammates toward the finish line. I even passed on more girl in my AG as I ran by my team.

And just like last year, when I made the final turn onto Ali’i tears filled my eyes and I didn’t want it to end. I definitely was ready for the pain throughout my body to subside, but I wasn’t quite ready for the season to be over. I guess that’s a sign of the joy I feel from this sport. But alas, my race and my season were both over. I crossed the line in 3:44 and ran into the arms of the first volunteer, with a total finish time of 10:53. This put me in 18th place for my age group. All my splits were ~5-10 minutes slower than planned, so I’m a little disappointed in my overall time. However, I’m proud of my fitness and I know I could not have been as strong, smart, or tough on race day without the hard training I put in over the past couple months. If things work out the way they did from 2010 to 2011, my fitness from this year will carry over into strong performances for 2012.
My 2011 season was not easy, but it has made me stronger both mentally and physically. It has been a year of learning and going beyond what I thought possible. Like Chrissie Wellington said in her victory speech:  “your limits might not be where you think that they are.” I am VERY excited to work even harder in 2012 and see where I am a year from now. I know I have A LOT of work to do to attain my goals for next year, but first, I'm focused on some recovery from this year.

Finally, thank you to ALL who have helped me this season:
*My team – whether it was swim sessions at the Bolin or Kutter Training Centers, the use of race wheels at Lake Stevens when mine were in the shop, encouragement in the water and on the road, or cheers in Kona, I feel very supported and proud to represent PauoleSport.

* My friends – those who are into triathlon and those who are not, you’ve helped me laugh, listened to me cry, and told me to toughen up and "believe" whenever I needed it.

*My bike team- especially the ladies from Team Group Health who encouraged me to join the Tuesday night hill ride group which improved my climbing and bike handling skills immensely.

*My coach – Kainoa, your Draconian updates to Training Peaks still scare the crap out of me some weeks, but your knowledge, oversight, care, and devotion to your athletes and team have made me the competitor I am today.

*Sydnie – you were the training partner and friend I relied on the most this year, always up for a weekday run, bringing me water during my long bricks, and making sure I made it safely out of the water after over-distance lake swims (with a hot Starbucks in hand!). You, Jenny, Alicia, Tesia, and the rest of the Seattle TriBabes made this season 140.6 times more fun!

*My MOM – thank you for coming out to Kona to watch me race and being there to “peel me off the pavement,” just in case, and also being near the phone to listen to training updates during weeks when, “I just want to sleep.”

*And mostly my DAD – I dedicated this season to you, not because you love triathlon, but because you’ve taught me so much over the years, like how to never, ever give up. I’ve thought of you on many a training session.

The successes of this year can’t only be measured in race finishes and PRs. Although it’s nice to shave minutes here and there and stand on top of a podium, the real joy I find in this sport is through the lifestyle it has given me, the relationships I’ve made, and the lessons I’ve learned. Congratulations to all the finishers in Kona this year. Best of luck with your off seasons and be prepared to make every year even better. Aloha and mahalo.

Sydnie, my mom, and I cheersing a great season with Mai Tai's at Jackie Rey's!

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