These are just a few of the words that capture the feelings that permeate the space around you while walking down Alibi drive during race week. These feelings are so strong you can almost reach out and touch them. The first day John and I walked down this road on the way to our 5K/10K race last Sunday to kick off Ironman week, tears sprung to my eyes as I looked around and realized where we were.  I made it to Kona.  A dream that I thought impossible when I started this sport over 10 years ago with my first sprint triathlon (training log entry from Winter 2000:  “swim one length of pool, walk back to start”). Every single day since completing Ironman Wisconsin in September of 2010, the thought of being in Kona this week to race in the Ironman World Championships was top of mind.

The harbor is basically shut down so that athletes can swim the 2.4 mile swim course the entire week before the event. “Caution – Ironman Athletes in Training” signs are everywhere on the roads.  Every single person walking down the street was either an athlete or someone that would support an athlete and/or the race in some way.

I had the benefit of lots of help and spent most of race week pretty relaxed and tried to simply soak in the experience.  John’s mom (Kathy) and sister (Sue) came with us to enjoy Hawaii and yet another Ironman event, to help with Zach and also ended up taking care of pretty much whatever we needed the entire week (e.g., groceries, gas in car, sag wagon…).  It’s important to note that Kathy and Sue have been with us at more races in the past couple years than I can count, and have become the ultimate Ironman support crew.  They always can anticipate what we need, they take care of Zachary, and they put up with our pre-race self centeredness and anxiety.  I could not have gotten to or through this race without them!

On Monday, John and I swam the entire course.

Tuesday was the Keiki (Hawaiian for child) Splash and Dash, and being in the water and on Ali’i Drive with Zachary where I would start and finish my Ironman on Saturday was an absolute joy.  When I ask Zachary (who is only 2.75 years old) what he did in his Ironman race this week, he tells his story with excitement and enthusiasm every time. “I swim, then I run, then I talk in the microphone! (He was interviewed by I-Man commentator Greg Welch).  I raced just like my Mommy – she’s a racer too and I needed to catch her!”.

Wednesday was the day John intended to ride the entire bike course in order to give me a full report as to how to plan the ride.  He left early, and after my short workout, Zachary, Kathy, Sue and I followed later in the car.  We took a leisurely ride up toward Hawi (pronounced Ha-veeh’), not really getting a full appreciation of the wind and the terrain from the luxury of our rented Jeep.  We got John’s call when we were about 10 miles or so from Hawi, where he told us that he needed sag as after 70 miles, he flatted and had a bum tire.  When we picked him up, he openly admitted his mistake – he dared insult the Hawaiian gods upon reaching the top of the climb to Hawi with a rather inappropriate gesture and paid for it on the descent.  I am happy though they took some mercy on him, and he simply flatted but did not

After dinner on Friday, John pulled out his computer and shared with me the notes of encouragement that he received from my training buddies that I have been working out with over the past 2 years.   Tears streamed down my face as I read them aloud and again as I went off by myself to reread them as I wanted to remember individual comments to tuck them away in my mind to access during the 140.6 miles the next day.  It was a touching and special gift that I carried with me on race day when I needed sources of strength.

Friday night, the night before the biggest event in my life following my wedding day and the birth of Zachary, I didn’t sleep.  I might have cat napped for 5 minutes at a time, but I saw every hour go by.  I didn’t think I was nervous, I felt good, but was WIDE AWAKE.  I tried to lay motionless, visualizing the race, step by step, and most of the time when I do this pre-race night, I end up falling asleep somewhere during the swim.  Well, this time, I made it through the whole course so many times Friday night that I lost count.

kris running lowres  

Finally, around 3:50 am I just got up and started eating breakfast. Besides having an Ensure in the middle of the night, (might as well, I was up anyway), I had a banana, a bowl of oatmeal, some applesauce, another Ensure, a bagel with peanut butter (ate about half of it), and half a bottle of sports drink.  I got dressed, gobbing Chamois Butt’r, Body Glide and Aquaphor in all places I could possibly think of, and John and I walked out the door at 5 am to hitch a ride to transition, just over a mile away down Alibi Drive.  Yes, not only did John train with me all year, drag me around the course during race week, but he also made sure I did not have a mental melt down on race morning, carried my bags and deposited me into athlete check in after a final hug and words of pride and encouragement.

6:40 AM – I stood on the beach, and looked around and soaked it all in.  Pros swimming out into the horizon.  Mike Reilly shouting over the microphone.  Spectators everywhere.  John Bye waving and shouting somewhere in the crowd.  Friends and family (most especially Mapso Nation) wishing me luck and awaiting updates.  Although triathlon is an individual sport, it is very motivating to know that so many care about how I performed this day.  The time has come.  The moment I’ve been preparing for over the last 12+ months and a dream that’s been in the back of my mind for over 10 years.  OMG!!  I swam out, aiming to put myself in the middle of the course, just like Mel Fink said to do.  Stopped at the first kayak to rest and test and fix my goggles.

6:50 AM – swam out to the next kayak to do the same.  Almost time.
6:55 AM – got in position, in the middle, a few rows deep.  No one close behind, those people were hanging back, which was good.  There was a triangle of space, just like Mel said there would be, and I settled in getting my watch ready and awaiting the canon. I’ve done the training, I’m ready, let’s do this!

7:00 AM – BOOM!!!!  The cannon fired and we started moving.  This was probably the most civilized and comfortable Ironman start of the 4 I’ve experienced to date.  Everyone moved in unison, and for that moment, it was like all of us were one as we moved like a perfectly coordinated school of fish out to sea. Speaking of fish, looking down into the crystal clear waters below was almost distracting.  Colorful fish swam along the reef, oblivious to the mayhem of people above them.  Divers sat on the surface shooting photos and keeping a watchful eye out for people in trouble.  As we swam out to the first buoy, I searched for some feet that I would draft on, and it seems others were doing the same.  There was some jostling now, and we started to bunch up.  Someone in front of me stopped and started the breast stroke, and I flexed my abs at the perfect time in anticipation of the hard kick to the stomach I received as I swam up on them.
Fortunately, things got sorted out quickly. Most of these people can swim well, and would do the course in an hour.

I was looking realistically at somewhere in the 1:20’s, but even my stretch goal of 1:17 would keep me “safely” out of the main pack.   The entire field was spread out at the start, but the group, as it moved in unison, converged on the same point, and pulled “us stragglers” along.  Of course I realize this is not the way to be aggressive in a championship race in which you are trying to do your best.  However, I made a conscious decision to swim at a pace that was somewhat relaxed, that I was certain I could sustain, and when the time came in the last quarter mile to speed up and “kick it in” to shore, I would do so.

The strategy worked, and I made my way not speedily, but very steadily and consistently from one buoy to the next, did not weave back and forth, did not expend any extra energy than was absolutely necessary.  I looked around as I swam, appreciated the landmarks I recognized going by on my left as we made our way out to the far end of the swim course.

Further down the swim course, it started to get pretty rough.  The ocean seemed to pick me up and toss me around and I was a little concerned about getting seasick.  I shook off the thought, deciding that I was not going to be in the rough seas for long enough for this to be a problem.  Lifting my head to sight the next buoy often caused a pretty huge intake of saltwater. I choked and gagged a little, then changed my breathing strategy a little to ensure that I was only breathing in the pocket of air under my arm and NOT when I was trying to look forward.  I also decreased the frequency of sighting at that time, and was comfortable doing so since the people I was swimming with all seemed pretty consistent and we had stayed on the buoy line consistently to that point.  The water was so clear that I could see every line on the person’s foot in front of me, and if I fell even slightly behind, the bubbles were easy to follow.

The last two buoys before the turn around seemed to come more slowly. And despite the rough seas, which I seemed to be contending with, I was now calm and really enjoying myself! At the turnaround buoy, I did not expect that I’d ride the same feet back that I rode out, and braced myself for the slugfest and kicks to
the stomach that usually occur at the turn around buoys.

I was having a blast, was completely at ease, and put my head down, and started searching for the next feet that I would ride back to the pier.  The first guy I tried to hang on to was weaving every which way, and had a very inconsistent flutter kick, so I discarded these feet and moved on.

I caught some feet of a woman who was swimming straight and steadily, jumped on and off we went.  At times, she sped up to catch a draft, and I was proud of myself for hanging on.  I was getting a little tired though, so found myself starting to weave and bobble from her left to right, as I typically do when my form starts to fall to pieces.  She started to swim away, getting farther and farther.  FOCUS!  I caught her and made a conscious effort to keep it together, really focusing on technique, since I was benefitting greatly from the saltwater and the drafting to keep me moving forward so there was no reason for things to fall apart, especially at the pace I was moving.

My ride sped up a little bit as we got closer to the pier, and I stayed with her, in fact, noticed I was getting a little too close.  I came up alongside her, attempting to pass, but I noticed this just led to an inefficient stroke and causing me to expend more energy than I cared to at that point in the race. So, I simply rode her feet to the beach, never even getting a chance to say “thank you” as we both ran up the beach, got hoisted up the steps, and made our way to the showers.  I felt GREAT, looked around and enjoyed the moment for a fraction of a second, and found a hose for showering off.

Swim time was 1:24.  More importantly, I felt better than I’d ever felt after swimming, despite the rough seas.  AWESOME!!   I calmly put on my socks, bike shoes, sunglasses, packed my extra salt (kept an extra baggie in my pocket in case the baggie in my Bento Box blew away while riding), and found my helmet and bike. Time to ride!  Transition was 4:31.

Jumped on my bike and got on task to begin making up some of the time I needed to in order to be competitive.  The first few miles are pretty fun.  You go up Palani and up and down the Kuakini Highway in the midst of LOTS of spectators.  Honestly, it felt like being in the Olympics or something based on how everything was set up, and people were just everywhere, yelling and shouting out words of encouragement. I saw John and a little while later saw Zachary, Kathy and Sue, on both the “out” and the “back”.    There were a bunch of small inclines and descents, none of which would count as climbs, but a little bit of work to get your blood pumping nonetheless.

Up a little steeper climb back up Palani and left onto the Queen K Highway.  Time to settle in for a VERY LONG RIDE!   It took a little while to find my pace.  Played leapfrog with a couple guys for awhile.  From
here to Waikoloa was the easiest part of the course and would be my opportunity to go as fast as I probably could all day.  However, I stuck to my pacing strategy, and decided that at this time I would hold back slightly, in order to take in as much nutrition as possible and make sure I conserved enough energy for the long day ahead.

Despite this, I was pleased to see that I was passing quite a number of people, and actually going by them at a pretty good pace.  There were very few people passing me at all, which was a good sign. Past the Energy Lab, then the airport, the terrain starts to change. There are endless lava fields and tall, yellow grasses as far as the eye can see in front of you.  Rolling hills span the horizon, none very daunting, but requiring a bit of effort.  At this point, the wind was behind me, so I felt great and was thoroughly enjoying the ride.

To the right are the mountains (the volcanoes) and to the left, the ocean.  No sound but that of cyclists around you.  AMAZING!  I had the opportunity to again reflect on where I am and what a privilege it is
to be here.

The endless fields of black lava are broken up not only by the tall yellow patches of grass, but also by the white coral rocks that people gather, line up and use to make letters.  Using these contrasting white rocks against the black lava rocks, people write names and sayings in the lava piles along the sides of the road.  I imagined that it was Mapso nation that was keeping the wind at my back and not in my face at that point.

You’d think it to be incredibly lonely going through the lava fields with no one and nothing around.  Eat, drink, pedal, eat, drink, pedal, enjoy the views, pass some people, and do it again.   But with an endless stream of bikers ahead as far as the eye can see going up and down the rolling hills out in the distance, just like the school of fish in the ocean, now we seemed like a natural progression of beings through the lava fields.

Got to Waikoloa, which was the end of what John and I agreed was section one of four on the bike course.    There was a smattering of spectators here, the first that we’ve seen basically since leaving Kona.  My bike split at this point is 19.6 mph, in line with my planned pace.  And here things change again, and the going gets a little tougher.  The next section of the course is essentially Waikoloa to the left hand turn to Hawi, and this section is absolutely desolate, with only rolling hills and other cyclists to break up the landscape.

In this section, I settled in and simply rode at a sustainable pace, trying to conserve some energy for the climb to Hawi.  I was still passing people, and at this point had only been passed by less than a handful of other cyclists.  I was still feeling great, pretending to be out on a training ride, taking in plenty of food, drink and water and was optimistic that things were going according to plan.  It was starting to get warmer, but there was a constant breeze now, so the heat wasn’t overwhelming.  Don’t get me wrong, it was hot, but not an unbearable, sauna like heat that I had been expecting (not yet anyway…)  and certainly wasn’t as bad as the 105 degree ride that I did back in August.

After the left hand turn, it was time to start the climbing to Hawi. Things were going well for quite awhile, and I thought perhaps we’d get lucky and the infamous winds up to Hawi wouldn’t be so bad.  I went along thinking this for awhile, until all of a sudden, BAM, there was the wind, right in your face.  And in your wheels.  And in your head.

At the same time, the climb to Hawi started getting more serious. I played around with my gears for awhile until I could find a cadence that I could handle in the high winds.
I had to get out of aero position and onto my bars, because  the wind seemed to blow at the most inopportune times, and it felt like it was literally lifting me up and placing me into the oncoming traffic coming back from Hawi.  Of course this was not the case, but that’s sure what it felt like, and I had to lean strongly to my right to prevent myself from blowing across the road.  This is while battling a fierce headwind and climbing uphill for 7 miles. Even worse, there was a huge gap in the aid stations.  I must’ve had a mental lapse because I had filled only my aero bottle at the prior stop and did not grab and extra bottle for my cage, and I was dangerously close to being out of drink at this point.  Brutal.

I was thinking about episodes of “I Shouldn’t be Alive” and was wondering whether if I ran out of water and dehydrated, this adventure would make it to production.  I conserved my last few sips and pressed on, into the wind and steeper grade.  Then at one point, I thought I heard a motorcycle, and fearing a course marshal, I sped up even more to ensure a quick pass and adequate gap between myself and the other cyclists climbing the hill with me.  I couldn’t bear to look at the speedometer on the bike anymore, as my speed was getting slower and slower.  John told me the last 7 miles to Hawi was hard and really sucked, but I couldn’t appreciate how difficult it really was until I got here.  I felt my left knee give a little “tweak” and wondered for a second as I absorbed the pain whether this would be the end of the day.  Nope, I decided that it was uncomfortable but not painful enough to end the day, and promised my knee that it could have a rest on the descent if it could hang in for a few more miles.  Somewhere during all of this an aid station magically appeared too, and I was no longer out of drink.  Ok, back on track (well, but for the grade, wind, and the fact that I was almost at mile 60.)  Mile 60, I said to myself, is no problem.  That’s simply a training ride.  Up in Hawi, I barely looked around.  I crossed the mat and was now averaging a little over 19 mph.  Yes, this is where the going started to get tougher and while I continued to embrace every moment of the race, I did not look around to enjoy the scenery.   I skipped picking up my special needs bag, as I really didn’t have anything good in there anyway, and kept going.  Next I had a very fast and dangerous descent, since we simply went back the way we came, which I decided to take a chance and do it in aero, vs. holding my bars like I saw so many others do that were heading back just a short time before.

I held onto the aero bars for dear life, and gripped my frame between my knees.  I felt Madame Crosswind trying to grab my front wheel and lift it off the ground, but I held tight and flew like I was shot out of a cannon down the hill (perspective – pro Chris Lieto got going 50 mph at this point).  Rather than pedal, I gave my left knee a break, knowing that I still had quite a while to go. This strategy paid off,  as my knee was in fact able to recover after the descent and while a little sore, it was no longer excruciating.  My next problem though was my left foot.  It had gone completely numb, and wiggling my toes simply made it hurt even worse.  I loosened my shoe and wiggled my foot around, figuring that this was another one of those annoying things I’d just have to deal with for the next 50 miles or so and hope that I could feel my foot by the time I needed to run on it.

While a little scary, the ride out of Hawi was pretty fun, but that all changed at the left turn back toward Waikoloa.  I had to pee, but couldn’t do it on the bike.  I tried and tried.  I stood.  I sat.  I stopped pedaling. I simply couldn’t execute.
And since I knew that I wasn’t getting off my bike until transition barring a crash, I knew that this would just have to be another one of those irritating problems I’d have to live with for the next 40 miles.  So that’s just what I did.

The rest of the ride back to Waikoloa seemed a lot harder than the way out. Sure, what goes up must come down, but it now seemed like there was more up than down, and the wind was starting to pick up.  It was also getting very HOT.  Well, maybe it was always hot (someone said it was 131 degrees off the asphalt), but I didn’t really notice until this point.  Everyone says the race really starts after the turn from Hawi  and they are absolutely right.  Up to that point, I was soaking in the experience and cherishing every minute. But something shifted and now I felt like I was in a pressure cooker and everything was turned up a notch.  My foot was numb, my knee hurt, I needed to pee, I was getting hot and the wind had picked up and was now in my face.
OK, here’s where Mapso Nation comes into the race again.  I put the hammer group around me and visualized a pace line pulling me along.  Sure enough, I started to reel people in again, even on the climbs.  It was unbelievable.  People I had started to lose in the distance materialized again, and soon enough I was passing them.
The last 20 miles or so of any Ironman bike course is generally challenging for a variety of reasons.  In your head, you’ve almost completed a century, so you should be “almost done”.  But 20 miles is still another full hour on the bike.  And in this case, that last hour, (well, but for the last 5 minutes or so) is really tough.  By now, it’s the hottest part of the day, and the sun is beating down on you relentlessly.  You can’t bear the thought of solid food, and any nutritional drink outside of water is too sweet to stomach.  Whatever mixture is left in your aero bottle is warm and no matter what you add to it, it’s still warm and tastes terrible.  Imagine riding with an industrial fan positioned just ahead of you.  That’s pretty much what it’s like.  But John told me to watch the mile markers on the road, and I only needed to get to mile marker 90 and things would get better.  He was spot on, and while the miles went by slowly, I had a goal to work
toward which helped me stay focused and get through it.  And it was a little easier after that and I was back to enjoying the race (minus the numb foot and the fact that I STILL had to pee, and couldn’t eat or drink anything but water anymore without gagging.)  I was also inspired by the helicopters in the sky following the lead men up ahead making their way down the Queen K on the run course.  Cool, that meant that I’m almost there, and these were the miles I had ridden earlier in the week in training.  These last miles went quickly, and biking back into town through all of the crowds was really fun.

Bike split was 5:41, averaging 19.7 mph, on target with my goal pace.
I was a bit over 7 hours into the race, and had confidence at this point that I could have a really amazing day based on my pacing strategy that I had planned for the run. I spent a little more time in transition this time (5:08), getting more sunscreen, Vaseline, changing shoes and socks and hitting the porta potty (finally!!!!)  Was really excited to make a full assessment of how I was feeling and realize that my knee was now fine, my foot wasn’t numb, and since I didn’t have to pee anymore, I felt like a whole new person.  FANTASTIC –game on, let’s run this marathon, I thought to myself.

I took off out of transition, had a split of 7 minutes 18 seconds in my first mile, and my heart rate was reasonable.  Knowing that this pace was a little faster than what I planned in the first half of the marathon, I slowed a bit, carefully watching my heart rate.  There are a few rolling hills, nothing too hard, but still requiring some effort, and my heart rate started to climb.  I pulled back a little again, and saw that I ran a 7:49 split for mile 2.  Hmmm, now too  slow, but not too far off if this is where I need to be for awhile to get my heart rate down. Saw John, Kathy, Sue and Zachary waving and smiling, and they were a great inspiration. Mile 3, more hills, a 7:54 split, and heart rate continuing to climb.  I continued on down Ali’i Drive, and noticed it was getting HOT!  I found myself aiming to run in shade where I could and felt things starting to change.  All of a sudden, my stomach was bloated.  I started to feel not so good. What was happening?  No, I can’t get sick now, I only need to run 23 more miles and I’m running strong, this is not

acceptable!  But my protests did me no good.

My nutrition plan ultimately failed me, or maybe it was the heat, but this was the start of a very tough run. My stomach was now so bloated I looked like I was pregnant.  The next few miles were increasingly slower and my heart rate continued to climb, at one point was even above 200.   This was just before I puked at mile 6.  For some stupid reason, I thought a banana would make me feel better, and while trying to chew and swallow it, I hurled mid-stride.  The last bottle of Ironman Perform that I drank ended up on my right shoe.  Apparently this is a common occurrence at the World Championships, because no one even appeared to notice.  Ok, then, if that’s the case, I’ll just keep going, I thought.  And actually, it was a good thing I did, because I
felt better temporarily.

I saw John, Kathy, Sue and Zachary again, told them what had happened but that I was feeling better and was going to pull this thing back together.   I switched to water and coke, and that would be all I would take in, from aid station to aid station, in addition to sponges and ice anywhere I could stuff them, for the rest of the race. Things seemed to be coming back together and despite slow shuffles through aid stations, I got myself back to just over 8 minute pace by miles 8, 9 and 10.  I was happy with this, because other than shuffling through aid, I was probably running the pace I had planned.

So things were coming together for a GREAT run, so I thought, and then the next problem started.  While I was relieved to no longer be vomiting, at least if you threw up you could do this in public and didn’t lose too much time.  (How sick and twisted is it when you find yourself running down the street weighing your options and determining you’d actually PREFER TO VOMIT???? )  Without getting into any details, I found myself skipping ice and sponges and racing to the porta potty somewhere during mile 11.  This threw my pace WAY off as I waited for and utilized the porta potty.  That cost me OVER 3 MINUTES!
Now I had to chase and re-catch all of the women that I had passed to that point.  Despite my picking up the pace, my digestive system was such a mess that any time gains I was making by speeding up between the aid stations I kept losing.  I think I caught and re-passed the same group of women 3 or 4 times between miles 9 and 18.

The run down the Queen K out to the energy lab seemed to go on FOREVER!  It was constantly up and down, nothing steep, but difficult nonetheless at that point in the race, especially after having my digestive system completely shut down.  I was sort of looking forward to the Energy Lab since I’d not been down there before and it’s such a famous place, but instead of enjoying what should have been a fast run down that road to the coast that went slightly downhill the entire way, the only thing I could think of was that if there was not a porta potty soon I was going to die right there in the middle of the street.  There was no way I was going to curse myself by pulling off to the side and ducking into a patch of tall yellow grass and defacing the lava rocks.  The Hawaiian gods would surely strike me down, probably 10 yards from the finish line so that I could almost but not quite finish the race. So I SUFFERED greatly, waited AGAIN for a porta potty (ok people, if it takes you that long, you don’t really have to go that bad!!), got extremely peeved about the fact that I had a bunch of women that I needed to catch and pass again, had more water and coke, made the turnaround, and pressed on. I told myself that the worst was now behind me, once I climbed out of the energy lab, I had about a 10K left, which I could do no matter how bad my stomach felt. More coke and water, kept going down the Queen K looking ahead and watching the mile markers go by one at a time.  4 miles to go. Sub 11 was in the bag if I managed to keep it together and avoid getting locked away in a porta potty.  While I had set aside my aspirations of running myself into the top 15 after I got sick, I was bound and determined to chase down every female in front of me that I could see, so I did.  I ignored everything else going on with my body at that point, it just didn’t matter anymore because I was almost done.  Miraculously, a few sips ofcoke and water at each aid station was enough to keep me going.  I was no longer nauseous, dizzy, just focused on getting done.  I could not find anywhere close to the pace that I was pushing during my speed workouts that prepared me for exactly this moment, but I know these allowed me to keep going.

Somewhat surprisingly, I finished the last section of the marathon at my marathon goal pace of 7:40, despite all that I was going through and my heart rate had come down to somewhat of a more reasonable level.  I did manage to overtake a handful of other women in my age group in that last bit, which was a good feeling, and one that makes me proud of the fact that kept pushing, when it would have been a heck of a lot easier to slow down, walk more, or simply have a rest.   And the run down Alibi Drive to the finish line – it’s everything you would expect it to be.  I didn’t even feel like I was running, but floating down the street toward Mike Reilly’s voice and the finish.  I didn’t slow down too much to savor the moment because if I did, I might have crumpled in a heap some 50 yards short of where I needed to be.


I managed to run a 3:40 marathon (slower than Ironman Wisconsin, only due to frequent time outs for the porta pottys).  While I was off my goal time for the run by at least 10 minutes (most of which I can directly attribute to bathroom breaks!), this was somehow the 12th fastest run in the world in my age group.  OK, I’ll take it, especially after the pain and suffering I endured!

I finished 22nd in my age group with a total race time of 10:55:30, which is an Ironman PR for me on the toughest course I’ve done to date.

After the race, I read all of the comments and updates that people were sending while I was on course and was so touched by the number of people that spent so much time in front of their computers following my progress.


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