October 8, 2016

Race Week

The days leading up to the race were filled with open water swims in the beautiful ?80°F warm and crystal clear ocean (filled with the bright and colorful fish and turtles of Hawaii); short runs and bike rides to shake out the legs and check out parts of the course; exploring the expo, full of the newest bike and technology releases; swims to the Clif Bar Coffee Boat; and of course, the famous Under Pants Run. It was beyond amazing and I feel so lucky to have been able to experience this incredibly beautiful island along with my mom, sister (Nikki), sister’s boyfriend (Kevin) and Matt.

Race Morning

Matt—BEST Sherpa ever!!!—and I woke up at 4:00am since transition opened up at 4:45am for body marking, pumping up tires, adding nutrition, and any other last minute tasks. We walked the 1.5 miles from our little condo to the race start. I was nervous, but the early morning sleepiness left me in a bit of a fog. I finally realized what I was doing and what I was in for as we approached the start and could hear volunteers yelling instructions at the athletes…then the nerves really started to kick in.

Matt walked with me as far as he was able to until we had to split ways. He dropped me off at the body marking area, gave me multiple hugs and a “Good luck. You’ll do swell”, just like he always did before a race. That’s when I started to get REALLY nervous! Holy cow! What am I doing?! I’m doing another one of these, let alone KONA?!?! I followed the other athletes through the gates, funneled like cattle towards the body-marking area. Volunteers were using wet cloths soaked in alcohol to scrub our arms and then sent us to another set of lines in order to pick up our temporary tattoos. Then we had to get in another line so that another volunteer could apply the tattoos with our numbers. It felt so legit!

After getting through the body-marking area successfully, all tatted up, I headed to find Zazu (my bike) to fill up my bottles and pump up the tires. After checking everything over to make sure we were all set for the day, I headed out of transition to wait until my wave was to start, at 7:10am.

The sky lit up with bright and beautiful orange and pink colors as athletes started to head out of transition and wiggle into their swim skins. I sat in the grass under a few palm trees, chatting with some of the other female age groupers waiting for the race to start.

Hawaiian drums were beating and I could feel adrenaline pumping through my body. The first cannon of the day went off meaning the pro men had started the swim. My heart started pumping faster. Minutes later, the second cannon sounded and the pro women were off.

Soon enough, I started wiggling into my swim skin and heading to the bathroom one last time. The age group men were all lined up, ready to enter the water and swim to the in-water start line. I stood and chatted with someone on Team Betty. We were trying to calm each other’s nerves while also pumping each other up for the day ahead. It was so awesome running into people I knew before the start; a kind of relief swept over me knowing I wasn’t doing this alone.

 

The Swim

Race volunteers started funneling the women age groupers through the start line, our timing chips beeping left and right. As a group of several hundred ladies, we entered the warm water of Dig Me Beach next to the Kailua Pier. We made our way to the start line where we treaded water for 15 minutes before our wave went off. I claimed a spot up front. Women were pushing and kicking, trying to claim their spots right before the start, pushing me towards the back. A few times, I put my face in the water to keep my goggles from fogging up and noticed a scuba diver below us with a huge camera. They were taking pictures of us treading water and caught this awesome shot with a turtle! I suddenly spotted space left of where I was and right up towards the front of the pack again. Relieved, I swam over there with 2 minutes to spare.

Before I realized it, the cannon went off and I saw a cloud of smoke to my right. I hit my Garmin and took off swimming. Here we go!!!

The swim was absolutely CRAZY! So many elbows to the face, head and body—I felt like a piñata thrown in the middle of a group of candy-crazy 10 year old kids! I carried on though, trying to find some space and hop on some other people’s feet in hopes to catch some kind of draft.

The buoys seemed to pass by rather quickly on my right and the turn-around Body Glove boat seemed to near. Soon enough, we made it around the boat and were headed back to the pier.

Every once in a while, I’d pick up my head to see how far we’d gone and I could spot the big yellow blow-up Gatorade bottle at the end of the pier. We were getting close! The current on the way in was stronger than the way out, but I just kept pulling through the water. I could hear the music blaring and the announcer saying things from the pier and knew we were almost there. One almost done, two more to go!

I climbed my way up the steps out of the water, almost falling on my face because I couldn’t see much out of my goggles. I laughed as an athlete behind me almost collapsed on top of me. The volunteers reached out to grab us as we ran up the rest of the steps.

I reached for the back of my swim skin, searching for the zipper with my fingers. I pulled it down and ran into the tent with hoses to rinse the salt water off my body (last thing I wanted to do was chafe!!).

I ran through transition, grabbing my bike bag and quickly putting on my shoes and helmet, eagerly making my way to get Zazu (my bike!).

 

The Bike

I was so happy to see Zazu sitting there and couldn’t wait to get going. The bike has always been my strength of the three disciplines and I couldn’t wait to throw the hammer down. Little did I know…

The first 10 miles was a little out and back through the city. It was lined with enthusiastic spectators cheering for every single athlete that passed. It was SO awesome! But as soon as we climbed our way up the remainder of Palani Rd, we were spit out onto the famous Queen K Highway.

The first few miles on the Queen K were such a blast! I was flying my way down the road, having so much fun and wearing the biggest smile on my face. I was absolutely loving every second of it!

Suddenly, the wind picked up. There were a few big blows from the left, then the right and then smack right into my face. So these are the crazy winds everyone kept telling me about

I kept as aero as I could, but the wind kept blowing us side to side and slowed us incredibly. This was going to be a fight.

It didn’t take long before I realized that the scenery wasn’t going to change much and the wind wasn’t going to die down. I kept pushing forward, looking for the next aid station just to keep my mind busy and free from negative talk.

The miles seemed to slowly creep on by, but the string of athletes out there in the middle of the lava fields kept chugging along. I remember looking up at one point and seeing a sign next to the highway stating Hawi wasn’t too far ahead; the turnaround at around mile 60. At this point, I was getting so tired from the constant wind coming from all directions. It had been a battle since I got onto to the Queen K and the wind never let up. It was also getting hot; my forearms burning. Climbing up to Hawi, I remember thinking to myself—almost hoping—that if I’d crashed right there and then, that it would all be over. Someone could just drive me back to transition and I would never do this again. At that very instant, a water bottle flew out of the guy’s bike in front of me and rolled right under my front wheel while I was in my aero bars. I instantly regretted thinking that thought as my heartrate jumped instantaneously! Okay, I don’t want to crash! The mini-scare put a pep in my step though and I charged up the hill right up to the turn-around, excited that the way back to Kona would surely be tailwind.

Yet, the second I turned those cones, only feet away from a line of spectators (after not having seen many spectators since leaving Palani Rd), I received a not so welcoming headwind. Don’t ask me why, it didn’t make sense. I had just battled 50 miles with cross and headwinds and yet, the second I turn around in Hawi, it was like the wind decided to change directions too.

Luckily, the 7 miles we climbed up to Hawi were 7 miles of downhill heading back to Kona. What a relief! Mile 70 came faster than I could believe, but I was so ready to get off my bike. I could see my forearms burning in the heat of the sun, already stinging with pain. I squirted them off with water at every aid station, only finding them burning again seconds later. The lava fields were torturous for sure—I suddenly understood what everyone always said about the bike course in Kona. I absolutely couldn’t believe how hard this course was and how much it was zapping my energy.

Negative thoughts kept creeping in, but I knew I couldn’t give up. I kept trying to battle the winds and kept looking for the mileage ticking by ever so slowly. I tried to stay positive, smiling at every volunteer through the aid stations and cheering on other athletes that I passed or would pass me. I’d think of my dad and how proud he would’ve been to see me race at one of the biggest races in triathlon. I couldn’t give up.

When I saw the cross-street leading to the airport, I almost wanted to cry. I was so happy to see the line of palm trees; T2 was getting closer! Moments later, I passed the Energy Lab, only to see the Pro Men and Pro Women already making their way towards the Energy Lab on the run. Boy, I wish I was in their shoes right about now! It was SO neat seeing them race and just throwing it down!

I rode my way through the city, excited to see people back out there, hoping to soak up some energy. I couldn’t wait to get off Zazu—but I wasn’t too keen to start the run to be honest! As I got off my bike, a volunteer grabbed it and I took off my cycling shoes so I could run through transition and around the pier faster. I claimed my run gear and slowly put my shoes, hat and bib number on. The volunteer asked me how I was doing and that’s when I realized I really wasn’t doing too hot. My forearms were completely burnt and hurting, my legs felt like jelly with nothing left in them and I felt so hot. I lied and told her I was doing fine, just moving a bit slow. Fake it till you make it, right? She laughed and said “Well, this is the perfect place for that! But once you start running, you’ll be fine! You’re doing great!” I thanked her and started running out of T2, reapplying sunblock and grabbing a wet towel to wrap around my shoulders.

 

The Run img_4495

I ran out of T2 and took in all the energy from the spectators lining the run course.
Running down Ali’i Drive, I realized I was overheating and really wasn’t feeling too great. I saw Matt a little less than a mile into the run and saw my mom, Nikki and Kevin about a mile into the run. They were cheering for me and taking pictures.

After a mile into the run, I walked through the aid station, stuffing soaked sponges into my tri top and trying to chug cups of water, Gatorade and ice, but I couldn’t cool down.

After getting through the aid station, I started to run again, but it didn’t take long before I started to walk. I was overheating and was starting to feel even worse. A few more miles into the run, going back and forth between running and walking, I realized I started to shiver. That’s when I knew things really weren’t going well. At the time, I didn’t really realize what was going on with my body (I later found out that I was battling heat stroke!), but I knew that whatever I was going through wasn’t good and I had to focus on pulling myself out of the terribly uncomfortable situation if I ever wanted to finish this thing.

After the turnaround and heading back towards transition before we’d head out to the Queen K, I saw my mom, Nikki and Kevin again and told them apologetically, “This is going to take a while. I’m so sorry!” They quickly told me it was okay, that they were proud of me and to just keep moving forward. Their encouragement instantly provided relief and I continued to chug along.

After the first ten miles crept by ever so slowly, I realized that I was no longer shivering and that my body temperature had finally dropped. I started to try to pick up the pace a bit, but quickly realized I was far too exhausted to go any faster. So the run/walk pattern continued.

It felt like hours had gone by and miles seemed to take forever. I tried to make the most of the entire experience and whenever I got to an aid station, I was sure to thank the volunteers and flash them a smile and high five. Spectators grouped at the beginning of the Queen K and the Energy Lab, dancing, cheering and playing loud music. They encouraged me to soak it all in and to keep pushing forward.

Exiting the Energy Lab, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t finish the race. I knew I would finish. I knew it was going to take me longer than I’d hoped, but there wasn’t an ounce of me that was about to quit. I had to do this for myself, for my family, for my dad. I made my way back out to the Queen K, with an amazing sunset behind me.

The miles didn’t go by any faster than they did heading out towards the Energy Lab, but I knew I was on my way back to the finish line. I pushed one mile at a time until the sky slowly darkened.

Three miles to go, the sun had completely set and the stars were beginning to shine. The Queen K was dark and silent. You could hear the shuffle of footsteps from the athletes still running. I slowly crept up to an aid station, bright with lights and energetic volunteers, still cheering and handing out cups of water, Gatorade, cola and Red Bull. I grabbed my cup of water and cola, as well as a glow-in-the-dark necklace and headed back out into the darkness.

With two miles to go, I saw Matt. I was so incredibly happy to see him! He started running behind me (to avoid pacing me) telling me how proud of me he was. Then he’d sprint off ahead of me to take pictures and cheer for me all over again. He made me laugh a lot and took the pain away for a bit. He did this for about a mile before he told me I was almost there. I had a couple more turns to make and then it would be the homestretch. Those words meant everything.

After Matt turned off to run to the finish line, where I’d meet him, my mom, Nikki and Kevin, I told myself I would run the rest, no matter how much I was hurting. I ran down the streets with a huge smile across my face, in disbelief that I was finally getting close to the finish line. I saw Jason and Adrienne on the last turn before the home stretch and couldn’t stop smiling. I could hear the music, see the bright lights and hear Mike Reilly’s voice talking over the microphone.

The home stretch was lined with people cheering, giving out high fives, taking pictures and dancing. I felt like what a celebrity must feel like walking down a normal street in the middle of a city! The finish chute was just before me and I don’t think I could’ve been any happier to see it. Matt had told me that my mom, Nikki and Kevin would be on the right side of the finish chute so I ran towards the right, high fiving people all the way towards the finish line. run-hop

I never actually saw them, but suddenly, I was underneath the finish line, celebrating with a victory jump. I couldn’t believe what just happened. I had finished the Ironman World Championship race, the hardest race I’d ever done in my life. It was a battle from the start and I actually finished it. There aren’t words to describe the emotions I was feeling at the time. It was a mixture of happiness, sadness, accomplishment, frustration and relief. I had trained so hard for two years straight and done three Ironman races in a year’s time. While I wasn’t in the shape I was hoping I’d be in for Kona, I never gave up and did my very best. That was something I could never be disappointed with myself for. I was an Ironman World Championship finisher!

 

The Aftermath img_4493

It’s taken me over a month to finish this race report because it’s taken me that long to process this race (I’ve even had multiple dreams about it!). Part of me is so eager to get back on the horse and come back to Kona to redeem myself, but part of me never wants to put myself through that kind of pain again.  I’ve had a very demanding 2016 race schedule, but one I will never regret and one I will always look back on knowing I worked so dang hard for it.

To say it’s been a challenging year would be a rather massive understatement. I couldn’t have done all the things I’ve done without so many people by my side and in my heart. I would’ve never continued to pursue this crazy path had it been for my determination and perseverance, which I so thankfully inherited from my dad. He never gave up on anything, and neither will I. I know he would’ve been proud of me for continuing to push and do my best; it was because of him that I kept going!

I could never thank my mom and Nikki enough for the continued support, even when times became especially trying. Family means everything, especially now. I’m so thankful I still have the both of you by my side and we will forever be the #peirtsagirlies. I love you so much. Oh, and thank you Nikki for all the beautiful street art that I regretfully missed while out on the run course!

HUGE thanks to Matt for all the support during training and for being the best Sherpa a girl could ask for on race day. I don’t even remember how many times I saw you on race day, but I think you almost did an Ironman yourself with all that running back and forth! Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. And thanks for keeping the world of Facebook updated on my progress throughout the day. I don’t think anyone will ever forget those posts!

A very big thank you to Jason for all of the coaching and prepping to get me here. It’s been a crazy two years, but two years I will never ever forget. It was so awesome seeing you and Adrienne out there on the course. I could never thank you enough for all of the advice, pep talks and support you’ve given me.

Lastly, thank you to Team Betty for being such an awesome team to hang around and be badass with. You girls continue to inspire me daily. Thanks to the SB Tri Club for the wonderful send-off and the never-ending support. Thank you to Power of Your Om for supporting me and helping me stay in balance while training for the past two years. Thanks to PhysioPhyx for keeping me recovered and ready for the next big workout.

 

What’s Next? boulder

I will be taking the rest of 2016 off from racing and have decided that the 2017 race schedule will be free of full distance triathlons. As of now, I’ve only signed up for Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa in May, but other than that, I plan to play on my mountain bike, do yoga, play with my new mini Australian Shepherd puppy Boulder and continue to swim, bike and run. #livelikelieven.