I posted a post race thought on Facebook after I finished racing Kona, The Ironman World Championships. I’ve been blown away not just by the amazing messages I’ve received since I posted, but also by all the incredible messages of support, encouragement and show in confidence in me, I received before the race. Thank you. I wasn’t looking for pity or messages, I just wanted to get my initial thoughts out there before I had some time to sit down and write this.
I said leading into Kona that whatever the result, it wouldn’t change my season. It wouldn’t change the results I’ve had this year, and the development I’ve made and the pride I’ve felt in that. It doesn’t. I’m still incredible proud of what I’ve achieved this year and the results and races I’ve had. Someone just asked me, would I change winning Ironman Australia, and second at Challenge Roth, for a top five in Kona. Whilst I did pause for some time, my answer was no!
However, that doesn’t mean that I was and still am pretty disappointed and pissed off at my performance in Kona. Obviously, I’ll review the race, take the learnings and move on. I know that I’m so incredible fortunate to do what I do, I’ve had an incredible year travelling the world. Would I ever have dreamt of this, a few years ago, of course not.
Yet, it still hurts when you work hard for something, feel you are in great shape (yes I know everyone says that), and then on the one day you want and need things to fall into place and fire, they don’t.
I’ve taken some huge learnings and development steps this year, through the races I’ve done and the training, and one of the things that is annoying is that I didn’t execute or implement any of this learning in the race. It was pretty much like I threw them out the window! Everything I normally do naturally and without thinking, I didn’t do. I didn’t use my strengths on the bike course and when the bike is one of your strengths, to execute it so poorly, yes that’s what hurts.
Similarly, with the swim and the run. I’d had a pretty solid swim the week prior, coming in around 55mins. This I felt was more reflective of the way I’ve been swimming and was positive going into the race. Whilst I didn’t feel the swim was too bad, and came out with a good group of women, it was back to the 58min, precious minutes lost. Then when after an average swim and poor bike, you bank on your run, and the form you’ve had leading into the race, believing you can still run up into a good position, and pulling your day up to a respectable and even good finish, and then well it’s just not there and ends up being a struggle of one foot in front of the other, rather than the ease and flow you’ve felt for weeks prior.
Obviously, some people hit it right. Many don’t of course. Many will have the same or similar story to me. I had nothing to lose in this race. No pressure or really expectation. Yes there was belief in what Matt Dixon, Paul Buick and I, thought I could do on the day, but it was really a freedom and bonus race, just to race. But I didn’t. Ultimately, I think I let the occasion and the build up distract me rather than energise me and give me the opportunity to rise to the race. I didn’t focus on my race and what I can do, but let others distract me and I deferred to them during the race rather than believing in my own abilities and race plan. Again, all the learnings from over the year, I didn’t use.
I’m still grappling with the next one. I was accused of doing too much in the weeks prior to the race and whilst this probably wasn’t a huge factor in my performance, it probably did add to the distraction. I struggle with this one a little bit though. As a professional I feel we have commitments to uphold to brands or companies that support us. Particularly when we are still new to the sport, and don’t have big sponsorships and want to be showing our value and worth and acting on what could be a potential opportunity. How do you balance or know, as a professional what is not enough, and what is too much? Before Kona, this does reach another level, but I felt I embraced it, got a buzz from it and did what I felt was the best job at planning and managing these to cause the least amount of distraction from racing. Many of the articles released I’d written several weeks back to ensure they were completed plenty of time prior. I’d scheduled in visits and meetings in what I thought was the best way to limit the distraction whilst still get the buzz that feeds me. I’m still being a bit stubborn to admit that perhaps I didn’t do this too well, and again kicking myself with not learning from the past and falling into old habits of trying to do things to please everyone else rather than being able to take a step back and ensure I had the right flow. If I compare it to pre-Roth, I loved the pre-race commitments and activities, and they never felt stressful. It all felt so calm and in control and like I still had all the time in the world. Whilst I loved all the pre-race commitments in Kona, and was, well really chuffed to be asked for some of them, if I’m honest, it almost felt sometimes like I was on a treadmill constantly trying to play catch up. I got the energy and buzz from them, but it didn’t have the relaxed timeless flow feel I’d had in Roth. I think I also got a bit caught in what I’m calling ‘no mans land’ between trying to play the race down as ‘just another race’ but obviously getting sucked into the hype. It’s hard to explain but I think I just ended up in the middle and not gaining from either.
However, when you have overall a pretty shocking and below par performance and still finish 15th in the World, it’s not too bad. Yes, I’m still upset and don’t think it was a good reflection of where I’m at, but that was it on the day, and there were plenty of other people that had bad days too. It doesn’t take anything away from my results over the rest of the year and what I’ve achieved. Ok so it still tastes a bit bitter now and I know will always feel like a missed opportunity to do something special, but it’s been a good year overall.
Right. Let’s go back to race week and the race.
Having been to Kona the past few years to watch, and experience the hype, I still don’t think I was really prepared for how much of a circus it is, when your name is on the start list. However, as mentioned you get a buzz from all the activities. Also, because most of the triathlon world descends on Kona, there are so many friends about both competing and supporting. It’s hard to walk down the street, so to speak, without bumping into people you know. Without going through everything, so of the pre-race highlights from me were:-
Breakfast with Bob – Wow! What an honour to make Breakfast with Bob, and meet Poncho Man. Bob Babbitt is a legend of the sport. I first met Bob, when he interviewed me after my win at Ironman Australia, although this was only via Skype. So it was fabulous to meet him in person and be on the show. Bob is also the co-founder of the Challenge Athlete Foundation, and I had been able to introduce Lauren Parker to CAF (and vice versa) back in May after my first interview. Bob has been amazing and I’ve just spent the most incredible weekend with Lauren at the CAF San Deigo Triathlon Challenge. More about the CAF weekend in another blog, but check out the Facebook Live interview from Kona here.
Witsup Wahine Warriors – As most of you are aware I’m a huge fan and supporter of Witsup, and regularly write race reviews and previews and some articles. It’s always an honour though and special when Stef asks me for an interview, podcast or in this case to be featured on the annual Kona edition of Wahine Warriors. What Stef and Witsup do for women in sport is incredible. Her energy, passion and vision for what she wants to achieve and where she’d like to take the sport is amazing, and I highly recommend you support and follow Witsup and the work she does. I’ll also mention that a big thanks to Carla Dunsten and Rob Sheeley, who work more behind the scenes with Stef trying to keep her on track with all her enthusiasm! (Thanks as well to Carla, Bret, Blake, Ines, Bos, Sam, Stef and Bretty for being my extended family in the first week in Kona and cooking dinner for me a couple of times! Very much appreciated.)
Check out my Wahine Warriors video here.
Ceramic Speed Lunch – When someone mentions they are going to cook you lunch you just can’t refuse! I’m not going to complain that the original female athlete they wanted, pulled out and I was substitute! Again, this is an example of what Stef is trying to do and how to do things differently. It was an opportunity for a very chilled and relaxed chat, with myself and Sam Appleton, whilst Dominique Rollin, an ex pro cyclist and now chef cooked an amazing lunch! Check out the Facebook Live stream here.
Onto the race.
Race morning: To be honest I was a bit like a deer in headlights. Whilst you think, it’s just another race, and you just need to go through your normal pre race routine, Kona is different. Obviously, there’s the same nerves and tension in the air, but the process of getting into transition is different as you are funnelled through to volunteers body marking you, dropping special needs and through to your bike. I think it’s partly just the location of the transition and the pier that makes it more claustrophobic almost, and condenses everything.
Swim: As I entered the water I did take the opportunity to try to look around at the thousands of spectators packing the break wall and lining the pier. It’s pretty special. The sun is just about to show over the tops of the mountains behind Kona, and it’s a magic time. Having had a pretty decent swim the week before on the course, albeit with several hundred friends not just the 34 other women, I was feeling pretty calm about it (well relatively with the fact that this was Kona). I lined myself up as planned with the other women I was hoping to swim with. You’re treading water, as paddle boarders create a chain saw action moving up and down the start line. With a few seconds to go the paddle boarders sit up and turn their boards in the direction of the course, opening up like gates. This is a signal the cannon is about to fire. BOOOOOOM! We’re off. I felt I started well and once settled found I was in a pack (wahoo I made a pack) and was moving quite well. Nothing really too eventful, I actually felt the swim went quicker than it had done the week before and as I exited the water I was pretty happy with the other women I exited with. However, post race when I saw the time and had a better think, I was actually disappointed. It was several minutes down from the previous swim, and I think perhaps a few of us in the pack were disappointed with the swim, and felt we should have been a few minutes quicker. However I know my swimming was going well, probably the best ever leading into the race. I’d had some good swims at the pool and with Matt and Paul in the open water in Kona, and so I’m going to keep that in my head as I move forward to the next race.
Bike: This bike course suits me. There are sections of the terrain that are right up my skills and abilities. But as said previously, I let it and other elements distract me. I didn’t ride my bike. I made bad decisions and didn’t react to the situation with the right response and at the right time. But I’ve already written in depth about all that. Coming out of transition you do a 10km loop around town. I think if you haven’t been to Kona, you don’t realise this, and just think athletes head straight out on the Queen K. I know I didn’t realise the first year I was there watching. It’s an interesting loop which mainly takes you up hills and false flats, and makes you question what your legs are doing straight away! It’s probably the section of the course that’s most packed with spectators, particularly around hot corner which you go through three times in this section. Once you climb Palani, you turn left and hit the rolling terrain of the Queen K for 50km +/- out to Kawaihea and the start of the climb to Hawi. The infamous Queen K. A rolling highway heading up the coast line of The Big Island. You can get lulled into thinking it’s straight but it curves around the edge of the island meaning that you can get all sorts of directions of wind as you head out. In the first few km of the bike apart from just riding like a donkey I missed a couple of opportunities that I shouldn’t have, and so found myself riding solo along the first section of the Queen K. However, I felt I was moving at this point, relatively well and didn’t judge to early just tried to settle into my rhythm. 25-30km in, however Carrie Lester caught back up to me, which was a welcome partner at this point in the race and we were able to ride and work together for much of the next section up to Hawi. We were moving through the field pretty well as we started the climb up to Hawi. There are a few other instances on this next section where I know again I made poor decisions and it resulted in Carrie pulling away from me as we neared the turn. But I swapped Carrie then for Rachel Joyce who I caught at the turn. Another incredibly experienced and respected Kona athlete, Rachel and I then were able to ride and work together all the way back to town, and again much welcomed company on the course, with how my ride was going.
Entering T2, I was still in quite a good headspace. I had ridden up to 11th and still felt I was very much in the game and the race. My run had been going really well in the prior month and weeks leading into Kona, and I was thinking that as my bike ride had been at best average, the run legs would come through and backing myself to be strong in the latter stages of the run, I could perhaps move up a few spots in the race, and hold off the fast runners behind me.
Run: Again, like the bike the run starts with an 8km out and back section along Ali’i Drive before heading up to the grave yard of the Queen K. Again, the start of the run and all along Ali’i Drive it’s packed with supporters, and the heat is intense. There was no wind or air movement just the hot, humid think air. At the start of the run it was about trying to find my rhythm and settle in and ensure I was taking on all the ice and water to keep the body temperature down. I didn’t feel too bad but not great either, but again didn’t judge and gave myself time to settle in. Suzie Cheetham came past me pretty easily, and at the turn at the end of Ali’i Drive I got to see the women ahead and also could look back to the women chasing me behind. There were some good runners, but I felt I was still moving ok. Again as with the bike, you then head up now “Mount” Palani before that left turn onto the Queen K and the 10k of running out to the Energy Lab. It’s pretty bleak on the Queen K. It’s just a freeway and the crowds and support thin out just leaving you, your head, and the Hawaiian sun beating down and then bouncing off the asphalt. Trying to break it down from aid station to aid station, which seem to get further and further apart. As Pros we have 6 Pro aid stations in addition to the regular ones. I hadn’t realised this until the Pro meeting on Thursday before the race, and almost dismissed this opportunity, thinking in all my other races this year I’ve been totally fine with the regular aid stations. However, I decided I’d put two frozen water bottles on aid station 2 and 5 on the run. Rookie mistake. When someone gives you the opportunity to put more (6x more) fuel and hydration out on the run course in Kona, whether it’s electrolyte, or just iced water. TAKE IT! On finally reaching the Energy Lab, there was some relief as it was actually cooler with a breeze in this part of the course. As I’d entered the Lab, I was able to witness the lead women coming out on their home stretch to the finish. It was very cool to see these women battling it out, Ryf just looking supreme but Crowley and Jackson so close in 3rd and 4th, but both running the way I’d imagined I would pre-race, yet in my current shuffle it was pretty humbling.
Fast forward (there wasn’t much fast moving out there), to approaching 2.5/2km to go. There’s one last hill to navigate before the right-hand turn at the top of Palani. At this point you are back with the spectators and crowds. Matt and Paul and the PP crew were out on their bikes doing their best to support me but I couldn’t help but feel I’d let them all down, and how disappointed they were with my race and where I was in the field. I didn’t know how the PP boys had gone, but I know I was the only PP pro woman left in the race, but I felt I’d let them down. However I kept moving forward as best I could inching closer to the finish. However just at the bottom of the final climb, I suddenly had Matt and Paul barking at me, telling me I need to start moving faster as I have someone right behind me. To be honest I wasn’t sure whether they were telling the truth or just trying to put a fire cracker up my arse for this last section. Yet, in an attempt to salvage something from the day, I dug deep and tried to wind the pace up, (all relatively of course) on this final climb. I turned down Palani and ran hard downhill, which is always great when your quads feel like they are already smashed. I had no idea who was behind me or how far. At the bottom of Palani you turn left and the road flattens out. You actually still have almost 1km to go, and the flat road now zaps all your relative speed from the downhill and you feel like you are climbing again! I still had no idea if Matt had been telling the truth or making it up that someone was catching me. I’d half imagined running the last part of the race back down Ali’i Drive into the finish chute and taking it all in at my first World Champs, having put in a performance I was proud of as well. But in reality, it was nothing like this. I was bitterly disappointed with the day and just felt so flat and low, and now even though Matt gave me the ‘all clear’ with the last few hundred meters to go, I felt no sense of accomplishment or joy. It was probably one of the most disappointing and underwhelming experiences I’ve had racing.
So what next… well I titled this blog, The Pants of Perspective after reading the book of the same name by Anna McNuff. (Definitely recommend this book.) I’ve just spent a weekend at the Challenge Athlete Foundation, San Diego Triathlon Challenge, with a huge number of athletes who are in wheel chairs or missing limbs. It was certainly a great way to put into perspective my disappointment in Kona, seeing the smiles and energy and pure passion of these kids at the event. Again, more of that to come in another blog.
As said as well, I know that I’ve had a great year of results and racing and of experiences in travelling the world that I am incredible grateful for. I’m still disappointed in myself and my race in Kona and pissed off. I didn’t deliver. I appreciate all the incredible messages that so many of you have sent and I’m grateful and thank you for them. Yes it was my first race in Kona and 15th isn’t too shoddy really. But it still hurts that I missed an opportunity.
However… I’m now back in Italy, with fabulous coffee and European culture. It’s time to step up and finish off the European series with Challenge. It’s time to consolidate my year and take another step forward. It’s time to race again…
As always I need to thank the companies and brands that have supported me. I’m sorry I didn’t have the performance on the day in Kona, but I’m grateful for the support these brands have shown in me over the year.
Ceepo, Scody, Shotz, Kask, Profile Design, PowerTap
Skins, Zone3, Oakley, SockMine, Kitbrix, Scicon, Activbod, HokeOneOne
Some of the Kona associated articles and media:
RedBull – It was the night before Kona…
RedBull – It was the night after Kona…
Scicon – What to do in Kona, outside of racing.
Ironwomen Podcast – Facebook Live