What a difference a year makes: Kona 2013

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October 16, 2013
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October 22, 2013

What a difference a year makes: Kona 2013

“It’s always better after the first year.”

I can’t tell you how many people told me that after last year! While I wasn’t heartbroken after my performance on the Big Island in 2012, I knew it wasn’t my best, and I knew it wasn’t reflective of where I was athletically. I had to put a ton of trust in those words people were telling me. I also had to put a ton of trust into my training. This being my third 140.6 of the year, I felt great. But I was aware that I had raced more, and raced longer, than I ever had in any other race season. Would I be able to hold up under the pressure, mentally and physically? Well, I just had to race and find out!

I was staying with Julie this year (if you haven’t watched our pre-race videos you should!). We filled the time with filming each other, amazing dinners, even a movie, and lots of relaxation. On Tuesday we hunkered down and stopped the shenanigans to really start to focus on the race. Dan, Julie’s husband and also the best race Sherpa ever, came out on Wednesday to play with us. We also had 2 other Team HPB girls, Maggie and Leslie, out there, and it really made it fun for the pre-race workouts to have a little squad.

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PLUS the SMASH crew was in full effect. This included Hillary’s sister Cameron, who, by default, is another one of my long lost sisters. So fun to finally get to meet and hang out!

 

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Race morning was a little more hectic than it was last year. The lines were a bit longer as temporary tattoo numbers were being figured out rather than the typical race number stamps, and security in general was beefed up in the transition areas. I finished up my pre-race routine and met Julie and Dan outside of transition in a quiet little alley. Funny – Pete Jacobs was also using this alley for his pre-race quiet area. Seeing how calm and cool he was actually put me at ease! It was also really cool to see him, one-by-one, go around and thank the support crew he had out there that day. It really does take a village, and watching one of the pro’s be thankful for that was heartwarming.

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Julie and I entered the water and headed over to the left. We had tried to convince Hillary into giving us the “ok” to start a minute after the entire race started so we could avoid the mass start, but she said no. So, we compromised and started all the way on the left side. Last year was one of the scariest experiences of my life in a mass swim start, and I didn’t want to repeat that. I also knew Julie was my same speed or faster, and staying with her in the swim would do me good. The cannon went off, and after about 500 meters I still had Julie on my left side. It was soooooo much better than last year when I was in the middle starting position, and I felt calm and collected the whole time. Julie and I both breathe to the left so I knew she had no clue I was still there. She made a move further to the outside and unfortunately some people were in the way and I couldn’t go with her. But, I felt good on the other feet I found and continued through the turnaround. Shortly after the turn back, I actually found her again! Crazy! I lost her soon after that, but I did my best to work hard all the way in to the pier. 1:04 was on the clock as I was exiting and I was SO excited to be under 1:05. As I sat down in the transition tent, guess who sat down in front of me?! JULIE!!!! I got her attention and for a couple seconds we were both so excited to have had a good swim and to see each other I swear we could have quit racing and had an amazing day with that. But, don’t worry, we continued on 🙂

On to the bike. I was doing my best to hold back this year because I remembered how terrible it is coming back on the Queen K when generally the headwinds hit and you’re tired. Nonetheless, I was making solid ground on people and during one long stretch I realized I was coming up on Maggie. Maggie is a teammate of mine through Team HPB, but also through Rev3. She, in case you missed it, recently crushed Mt Tremblant, and is SUPER strong on the bike. How I was coming up on her I wasn’t sure. In about 30 seconds so many things rushed through my mind, but more than anything else I thought about me last year, in her position, racing my first Kona. I thought about how the bike was such a different world than I had ever seen before. People will talk till they are blue in the face about how Kona is a draft fest. And, I’m not saying they are wrong, but I do think that the layout of the course is going to make this difficult for it to ever change. So, to succeed, you have to learn to ride aggressively. Legally, but aggressively – this is a delicate balance. So, as I came up on Maggie I looked over and told her one simple thing: Stay with me!

Now, let’s make this clear: triathlon is an individual sport. But, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance and the mentorship of some amazing women before me. I can be brought to tears thinking about how kind some women have been to me. If I can, on any given day, be there for another girl that I know who is trying to make it in the sport, I will. At the Naval Academy we would always say to never leave a squad mate “face down in a rice patty.” That’s a bit extreme, but there was no way I was going to pass Maggie without letting her know I wanted her to be right with me.

I made it up to Hawi and as you’ve probably read, we escaped the crazy winds that we saw there last year. However, heading back on the Queen K was just as windy as the worst I’ve seen it, and it did start to take its toll on me. As girls I had passed early in the ride were passing me back, I had to rest assured that I was sticking to my plan and I was riding within myself. I was going to get them on the run.

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Hitting T2 I felt okay. Not great, but okay. My stomach felt a bit full, but the legs were okay. Heading down Ali’i drive I was lucky to be running to the cheers of so many. And, I have to say, it really is another race when you’re in the 10-ish hour range rather than the 11. Suddenly the crowd is encouraging you to race, not just to finish. I had to concentrate on staying on my paces, sticking to my plan, running within myself. I managed not to take any coke until the half marathon point, and that was a small internal victory for me as I continued on to the energy lab. The temperature swings on the run depending on which direction you’re running are huge, and can drastically affect pace. As I headed out the Queen K, I also had some pretty big swings in terms of mood. I would literally feel great for a mile then god awful for the next. During the low swings I just kept reminding myself that everyone felt that way, and it would pass. Again here I found Maggie, and could tell by her posture she was at a low point. I reminded her that everything changes when you come out of the Energy Lab, stick to the plan, and not give up.

As I hit the turn from the energy lab back onto the Queen K, for the first time I allowed myself to look at my watch to determine the time of day, which indicated where I  stood for total time. Some quick, backwards race math left me at least confident that I could potentially break 10:20. I needed to stick to 8’s. I continued on, and Hillary found me. “I feel okay, but I don’t think I have more than this.” Hillary only responded with “okay, well you are going after 10:15 today but you need to push it.”

Well, shit.

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About 3 miles from the finish, I had to turn it on. While I probably was still running about 8’s, I felt like I was flying. I was passing girls. My cadence was strong. I was doing this. I flew down Palani, hit Ali’i drive, and much differently from last year, I remembered to soak it all in. I felt good. I felt strong. It was daylight. And, I was finishing in the world championships of my sport, well above my goal time. It really was, for lack of a better word, amazing. The SMASH crew was there as the finishing chute began. I high fived and smiled all the way in.

I hit the line in 10:14:07. About 8 minutes faster than my ‘best case scenario’ time going into the race. I felt strong at the end – strong enough that my most poignant memory is of the finish line catchers putting a hot, dry towel around me. Why these towels weren’t soaked in ice water, I’ll never know.

After Boston, the post-race area has been changed so you can’t meet up with family and friends right there. I knew Hillary had to go back out for a few minutes to get the other girls, so I sat down and ate some pizza, trying to soak it all in.

Those of you who know me will know that I am loyal to Rev3. There’s no other crew that helps me feel better supported at a race, or like triathlon is more of my family than anything else. And this day was no different – while the team was mostly in South Caroline for the Rev3 race, their support was felt through and through on this day.

Beyond my loyalty to Rev3, I will always acknowledge that Kona is a special place. For about a week you get to leave the real world. As you depart LAX, or SFO, you touch down in a place where suddenly everyone “gets” you. Everyone is family. Your crazy life is no longer so crazy. I was so lucky this year to have 3 other girls with me, a coach, and several other SMASH girls who made the week so fun and special. Leaving to get back to the real world is always hard, but the pangs of sadness that the week is over simply remind me how near and dear to me this sport is, and how worth it the work I put in for it really is.

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Still to come is a “Pictures of Kona” blog! Dan also served as our paparazzi while he was there and got some great shots that deserve to be captioned. Stay tuned!