Around this time last year, a co-worker at the time and friend Ryan hung up a piece of paper that said “Cool $hit I want to do.” He looked at me and said “Kate, I feel like you have a lot of cool things you want to do.” Most people were writing things like Sky Diving, traveling to cool places, etc. I took the pen and wrote down “Run down Ali’i Drive.” “That’s it?” “Yeah, for right now... that’s it.”
Fast forward to Mont Tremblant in August, I was given that opportunity when I qualified and got my Kona spot. A dream that even a year ago seemed so distant. I don't have a background in any of the 3 disciplines and it has taken a lot of heart, passion and hard work to punch my ticket to the big island. The road from Ironman Mont Tremblant to Kona was definitely not all rainbows and butterflies. It was probably one of the most mentally challenging training blocks I have experienced. My body was tired, mentally I was tired and most of my training peeps were in their off-season and had dialed back the training big time. I had a lot of solo training, though I was extremely fortunate to have several people step up to the plate and train with me. As much as I hate to admit it, I hit some bad mental lows. There was a 5 hour solo ride where I pulled over to pee and just sat leaning up against a tree and cried. I had moments of crying in the pool, crying on the trainer. As much as I absolutely love the training and the journey, I was bound to hit some bumps in the road after a long season. Though these rough times made me mentally stronger.
As I was finishing off my final training sessions before getting on that plane, I just felt like my legs didn’t have the snap. It was the first time I felt like I was going into doing an Ironman not fully feeling my best. But it was Kona and I was beyond thrilled that I was going to be toeing the line with the best in the world.
I arrived to Kona on the Tuesday before the race. I spent the next couple of days picking up my bike from Tribike Transport, registering, and doing some last final training sessions with Brigitte, Tara, Steve, Joe and Molly. I was so happy to have some QT2 people to train and hang out with. The first practice swim was unforgettable. The whole environment was incredible. Getting in that water and just realizing I was in Kona was so surreal. Everything I had watched on TV for years was right in front of me. The water was clear and gorgeous. My body was happy to be in the warm weather and warm water. I was starting to feel like I could do this thing.
At the QT2 Breakfast, Cait Snow had warned all of us newbies that bike check-in was quite the experience. I didn’t appreciate quite what she meant until I got down to the pier. There were regular people just spectating the whole event. Bike vendors had set up camp and were giving out t-shirts to athletes who were riding their brand of bike. I walked through the crowd and arrived at check-in and it was like walking the red carpet. Journalists and vendors were camped out with clip boards taking counts of the brand of bike, helmet, saddle, bike components, and wheels that the athletes were riding. People were taking pictures, and then there were just regular people not in the industry there just to watch the whole brigade.
I got to the pier and had my own volunteer to walk me through the whole bike check-in and bike/run bag drop off. It was sinking in that I was going to be doing an Ironman the next day.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing with my feet up.
We had an early dinner and was in bed early. Like at Mont Tremblant, I was very grateful that I was able to sleep the whole week leading up to the race and the night before the race. Hopefully this will be the new trend for future races.
As we were driving to drop me off, I realized I forgot my Special Needs bags. These are the bags that are at the half way point on the course and are filled with spare tubes, CO2, extra fuel and electrolytes. How could I forget them?! Debating whether or not I really needed them, I decided I was setting myself up for disaster if I didn’t have them. We turned around and my amazing little sherpa Lindsey ran back in to get them for me. Luckily, we had left plenty of time to get to the start and I was doing okay with time.
I went to get body marked. They had the tattoo numbers, which I liked, but thought it was more efficient having the numbers in our race packet like at Tremblant, rather than having volunteers mark us in the morning. I weighed in and then went to my bike to do some finishing touches. I made small talk with other athletes as helicopters were hovering overhead. The chef Gordon Ramsay walked by, but I was more star struck by Andy Potts walking by, who had pulled out of the race that morning due to injury.
As I got in to the water, NBC cameras and crew men surrounded us. I looked around at all of the people lined up on the pier and on the shoreline. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was real, I was beginning to live my dream.
The countdown started and I was surprisingly pretty relaxed. I had a small pit in my stomach, but I truly was going into the day with very little expectations other than to race smart and leave everything out on the course and to soak up the experience. The cannon blasted and we were off. I started to swim and felt really good in the water. I had coach Jen’s voice in my head reminding me on good form and technique. I was able to draft and had moments of clear water. I was knocked around very little and was very happy to actually swim rather than battle other athletes unlike a lot of mass starts. I got excited as the big blow up power bar perform got closer. I started to hear Mike Reilly’s voice commenting on the race. I ran out of the water and saw a 1:07:xx. I was thrilled. I was expecting around 5-6 minutes slower than Tremblant because it was a non-wetsuit swim, but it was only 2.5 minutes slower. With the wave group start at Tremblant, I really didn’t have any drafting, but here I was able to use the mass start to my advantage. By the time I ran over the mat, the official swim time was 1:08:00.
I grabbed my bag and was off to the changing tent. I grabbed my stuff and was off. I looked and realized I was missing my second container of salt stick electrolytes. Shoot. I turned around and tried to find the volunteer with my T1 bag. I couldn’t find her. I couldn’t find my bag. Maybe I had thrown it out with the Ziploc bag that was holding my bars and electrolytes together. I use the Ziploc to prevent exactly this from happening, but clearly it didn't work. I'm usually in the women's tent by with very few other women, but this was the World Championships, so not the case. I quickly went through the trash. I couldn’t find it. Well, I am going to need to race with out them. I had some in special needs, so I could get some more then. I started to do the math and realized that I had enough in my one container to get me through the bike. As I started to ride, my heart rate was high. I tried to get it down and not get caught up in everyone flying by me and focused on my hydration. I needed to make sure I didn’t get distracted by all of the surrounding excitement and get 4 bottles down that hour. It was pretty easy as I had decided to make the switch and race with Skratch Labs. (For more on this see this post.) As I climbed up Palani, I saw my mom, dad and Lindsey cheering for me. It was such a great energy boost as I was about to head out of town. I settled into riding and my heart rate finally settled in where I wanted it. I was feeling good and riding well. All of a sudden two guys crashed right in front of me. They both went down and were sprawled across the road. I luckily was able to swerve around the crash. About 10 miles later, I was riding and I had been good about avoiding all of the dropped bottles, but missed seeing one and ran right over it. Luckily I was able to stay upright and continued on. I swear Pele was looking over me, because I had escaped two incidents that could have been disaster. A couple miles down the road, my wheel started making noises and rubbing. Uh oh, I always get nervous when things with my bike go awry. I decided to pull over, get off my bike and try to fix it. Luckily it was just my brake that must have been jolted from running over the water bottle. I fixed it and was on my way. I continued to ride and was just in awe and full of gratitude that I was actually there, riding through the lava fields. The ride out to Hawi was pretty uneventful. I took in the gorgeous views of the ocean. Seeing the leaders of the race go by and the tv cameras and motorcycles that followed them was a bit surreal. The return trip is where I started to experience the heat and winds. The winds were picking up by the minute. There were crosswinds and head winds. I was pushed across the road a couple of times, but nothing too bad. Later after I finished, I heard the winds were pretty mild compared to years past. I tried not to think of the wind and just continued to pedal. My focus was getting my nutrition in, keeping my cadence, power and heart rate where I wanted them. I was trying not to focus on pace as it was depressing to see the average pace decrease the more the winds picked up. At mile 94, my cadence and power went out, but by that point, I knew I just had to keep it steady for the next 18 miles. I was so happy to start to recognize the roads again and get back into town. I handed off my bike and was into the changing tent for a quick transition and then was off. My legs felt ok. My pace was slower than normal, but I expected that. I just tried to keep my heart rate where I wanted it. I usually can push a bit higher, but was trying to be somewhat conservative knowing that the lava fields had a tendency to cause people to blow up especially around the energy lab. Running down Ali’i past Lava Java, I saw my parents and Lindsey and other QT2 supporters. As I went through the aid stations, my main objective was to get perform and water in me, take sponges and ice to do my best to keep cool. I continued to run and was feeling the effects of Tremblant lingering in my legs. I tried not to get caught up in my pace that was slowing and just try to keep my heart rate steady and where I wanted it to be. My walks through the aid station grew a bit slower and longer, but I refused to walk other than that. I was going to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I started on the coke around mile 12. Nothing had tasted so good. I was anticipating the turn to the energy lab… where was it? It felt like it took forever to get there. I was happy to finally make the turn and even happier to make the turn around. I was heading home. Finally. The sun sets at 6 pm in Kona and it gets dark really quickly. They were handing out the glow sticks and I was depressed to see them, so I refused the first time. The second hand out was mandatory. I put it around my neck and continued on. At this point, my body was really ready to stop. My chafing was so bad that when I peed it was burning. My feet were hurting. But the thought of getting to Ali’i kept me going. As I counted down the miles, I just kept telling myself I had run those amount of miles hundreds of times before and if I could do it then, I sure as hell could do it now. I was running near a guy who lived on the island. The locals were going crazy cheering for him. I pretended like they were cheering for me. I took that energy boost and soared on. As I took the right on Ali’i Drive, I started to tear up. This was it. This is what I had dreamed of. The spectators were cheering, I heard Mike Reilly’s voice grow louder. I saw Lindsey and my parents. I was determined to finally hear Mike Reilly say “Kathryn Weiler You are an Ironman.” As I crossed the line, a guy was wobbling and fell over into the arms of two volunteers. I was nervous he was going to fall into me. I swung around him and saw myself cross on the big screen overhead. I saw the clock 11:45:15. Though not even close to a PR, I was so so happy to see an 11 in that time. It was better than I had expected going into that day. There I was, living my dream. I was officially a qualified finisher of the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. And of course, as I later told Mike Reilly when I happened to be sitting next to him at the bar a couple days later, I have yet to hear him say my name as I cross the line. It is a delusional blackout that happens every time.
The rest of the night was spent eating a great meal at Lava Java, then hanging out watching the finishers to midnight. For years, I have watched the Kona finish line party in the wee hours of the morning. Each year saying that I will be there someday. It was surreal. I was actually there this time.
And let me tell you, the fire in my belly has been ignited, I am going to do everything in my power to get back to Kona. And where I gave everything I had on that day, I know I can do a heck of a lot better on that course. And I have a burning desire to go back and do just that.
A huge thank you to Tim Snow and QT2Systems. They have helped me accomplish a dream that only several years ago seemed ridiculously unrealistic for me. Thank you to my QT2 Teammates who continually inspire me. I am so honored to be on a team of such supportive and talented athletes. Seeing you guys absolutely crush it at Kona inspires and motivates me even more. Thank you to everyone back home for all the love, texts, tweets, Facebook messages and calls. The outpouring support meant the world to me. And knowing you all were tracking me back home, helped me battle through the lava fields. To Jen for continually help me grow as a swimmer, to Pam for the friendship and on going hospitality at the lake especially this time around when I would show up at her house at off hours because I had a lot of solo swims to do. To Susan at Concord Sports Massage for always believing in me and keeping my body in top condition.
To my siblings, Michael and Meghan who were sending me lots of love and positive energy from back home. And finally thank you to my Mom, Dad and Lindsey. Having you on the Big Island supporting me and helping me conquer my dream meant the world to me. I can’t thank you enough. I love you.