My first attempt at Ironman was in 2007 and it happened to be at the Ironman World Championships. Before the race I made a bold statement to the world on the NBC coverage stating that “I would one day win this event. It may not be this year, but it will happen.” After the race I realized two things:
- This (Ironman) is the hardest thing I have EVER done; and
- Winning this thing may take a while.
Now, here I am in 2012 being crowned the Hawaii Ironman World Champion……….6 years later!!! This win is not my own and it was no solo effort. Yes, on race day I am out there doing what I know how to do, but I want to say a HUGE thank you early on in this race report to my family, friends, coach (Siri), my massage therapists (Bill Kruse, William Pettit and Byron Thomas) and sponsors. I want you to all know that this win was no solo effort. These people and companies have enabled me to be where I am today and they are so important to me .
This is my 4th World Title and the only one witnessed by members of my immediate family: my sister Melissa and my brother Justin. My parents (Joyce and Gordon) couldn’t make it to Kona because Mum just had an operation that did not allow her to fly, but they were online the entire time.
Back in 2008, I signed up with K-Swiss, Pinarello, Pacific Health Labs (makers of Accelerade & Endurox R4), Blueseventy, TriSports.com, Computrainer and Giro/Easton. I have had a mixed bag of results in the last 5 years, but there is one thing that my sponsors have had the whole time: belief in me. As I write this, my eyes are welling up with tears because it is with through this team and my more recent sponsors (Driscolls, Fuel Belt, ISM, Tor Hans, SKINS, Oakley, TriBike Transport and PowerCranks) that I have been afforded the opportunity to live my dream.
Little things in my life have always been the big things. I did not grow up privileged. My family has always had a very hard work ethic that has been instilled in me. However, a number of sacrifices have been made along the way. Leaving behind my family to pursue my dreams has not always been easy; however it has been encouraged and accepted by my parents and siblings.
I see myself as a bit of a misfit. In large groups I am socially awkward and I say inappropriate things from time to time (I apologize to those who I may have offended). I never really fit the mold of a typical teenager/youth who went out to parties all night, dressed to impress, slapped on layers of make-up, chased boys or lived it up throughout my university years. I was the person who, despite enjoying the odd late night and drink or two, made it home well before my peers and was out the door training when some were just making their way home. But this misfit is now confident being the person she is through the success the sport of triathlon has given her.
My first time at Ironman was nothing like my race last weekend. A brief history of my previous races in Hawaii:
2007: 10th place. A decent first time result, but I could NOT move after this race. I qualified for the event in the 2006 70.3 World Championships (and the debut of this annual event) where I came 3rd to Samantha McGlone. That year I also won the ITU Long Distance World Championships which was my 2nd World Championship win after my 2002 ITU Olympic Distance win. I beat Chrissie Wellington in this event, but she kicked my arse in Kona, and has dominated the distance and the World Championships ever since. I have never been in so much pain in all my life after a race. I could not walk for a week. My inexperience in pacing caused a bad judgment of effort on the bike and I cooked myself. I started the marathon (first one I had ever done btw), and EVERY step killed.
2008: DNF. For the 2nd time in my 12 year career as a professional triathlete, I was sick with a cold on race day. Not bad odds really.
2009: 21st. Let’s just say it was a shitty day at the office and leave it there!!!
2010: 10th. What a struggle and a fight this day was. The demons in my head were screaming at me. I had a relatively strong swim and bike. But my gut started playing up during the 2nd half of the marathon and I was in the loo 8 times. My head was screaming at my body to stop. I’m a bit stubborn and I said no and I fought hard to make it in 10th place. Another arse kicking in my book.
2011: 3rd. I finally nailed a good one. I made a few changes. Less travel and racing. Longer training blocks. More recovery training days. And some great nutritional advice from an expert, Brian Shea from PB Nutrition. It was a breakthrough race for me and gave me the confidence I needed to win IMAZ a few weeks later and do my first sub-3hr marathon.
2012: WIN, WIN, WIN!!!! Here is the race report you have been waiting for. I came off winning the Ironman 70.3 World Champs with a good bit of confidence leading into my final 4 weeks of Kona preparation. I headed out to the Big Island right after Vegas. It’s what I did last year and it worked. Kona is also such a great place to train and relax at the same time without any distractions, and I have had my fair share of those this year already! With a week out from race day, I said to my coach Siri: “I’m ready. I just need to rest now”. I felt I had peaked. Not a feeling I get very often, but I know it when I get to that point. I wasn’t too bothered by the triathlon circus that started to arrive in town. There were days when I was being pulled around in a million directions by media, sponsors, friends and family. Nothing that bothered me or I didn’t expect. I did what I had to do and kept my feet up the rest of the time.
The weather this year seemed much cooler than previous years. A lot of rain. Mild temperatures and not too much wind. But that is not what I wanted for race day. I was hoping for a really hot and windy conditions, and guess what…………that’s what we got! I have no idea how high the mercury actually was on race day, but I felt it and I liked it! This year was the first year in the history of the Ironman World Championships that the pro women had a separate start from the men……..what a brilliant concept: what took so long?!!! This enables me to have a “clean” swim. In the past it has been a battle with the men, who seem to swim rather aggressively. I could see my competition the whole way and they were not dragged along by the white water made by the men’s race. Much fairer on all accounts. I swam in 3rd most of the way and came out in a small group of 4 girls: Gina Crawford, Amy Marsh, Meredith Brook-Kessler and Mary Beth Ellis, with Amanda Stevens about 1min ahead.
The bike took a different scene than previous years. There was no clear dominant cyclist on this day. I was expecting Caroline Steffen to peg it off the front once she caught the “group” (I say this with inverted commas because technically, with the drafting rules, we are spread out according to the rules). However, Caroline seemed to be riding rather conservatively, being content to cycle amongst the lead women, but unfortunately she received a bike penalty early on which saw her playing catch up on the way up to Hawi. At around this point I took to the lead which is where I remained until Hawi at which point I grabbed my special needs bag while Caroline and Mary Beth sailed on by. I was surprised and happy to see we had split the field apart at this point, helped by the brutal winds that were hitting us from the front and the side on our ascent. It was now a three woman show up the front. But that didn’t last all that long. With a tail wind heading back to Kawaihae, I pulled a stupid move and tried pass both Mary Beth and Caroline, but I ran out of gears to make it past Caroline who was in the lead and I had to drop back. Because I did not complete the pass, this is a bike violation and I was cited with a 4min penalty which I served at Waikoloa. So I rode into T2 solo, but was surprised to see Ellis run out of the penalty tent in transition as I came in. We were all back on a level playing field……kind of!
Out on to the run, and I felt pretty average. Mary Beth took off quite quickly in pursuit of Caroline who was 4 minutes up the road. Mary Beth gapped me by about a minute, but that was ok so early on in the run. After about 6miles, I started to feel a bit more of a bounce and I could open my stride up. Although the gap to Caroline stayed the same, I reeled in Mary Beth. We ran together for the next 6 miles….. side by side (not stride for stride because she is tiny!). At this point I just started feeling stronger and stronger so I pushed a little harder, but nothing crazy. I’m talking 5secs a mile faster tops, but enough to see the gap closing slightly to Caroline who was now 3mins up the road. Somewhere between mile 15 and 18 Mirinda almost caught me. I sound vague when I say this because I actually had no idea she was there until the next day after the race when everyone was telling me. There were quite a few motor bikes around me at the time and I couldn’t hear a thing anyone was yelling at me from the side of the road. In fact, at the turnaround in the Energy Lab, I saw Mirinda not too far behind and I thought it was at this point she was catching me. So I was freaking out a bit. I was still feeling good so I didn’t change my pace. I just kept plugging away and eating in to the gap between myself and Caroline which was now down to 2mins30sec.
One thing that I remember thinking at this point in the race was how amazing Natascha Badman was doing. I remember back in 1998, before I had even turned pro, Natascha just won her first of 6 Ironman World Titles at the age of 32. And she is still killing 14 years later as an incredible 46 year old.
On my way out of the Energy Lab, I heard from sidelines that I was now only 1min45secs down off Caroline. In my head I was calculating what I needed to do to win. With 7 miles to go, I had to get back 15secs a mile and I thought that was totally doable, all I had to do was not slow down. Gradually the miles were ticking on by and I could now see Caroline just a few hundred yards up the road. 1mins, 55secs, 45secs and that was the last time split I heard. My head switched off and all I can remember seeing is Caroline getting closer and closer and at 23miles, I made the pass. I surged right at the bottom of the last hill and it wasn’t pleasant. Everyone has a pain threshold, and had just hit mine. It is a different pain in an Ironman as opposed to an Olympic distance event where flat out is as fast as you can go to the point your heart can not beat any faster. In an Ironman, you are willing your body to go but you are bound by the limitations to perform under fatigue. My heart rate felt low (I don’t wear a watch or use a bike computer for that matter during a race), but I could not push any harder. I gave the last few miles everything. This was a fight for a World Championship Title that I have been chasing for years and I was not going to lose.
A little bit of guilt came across as I know the disappointment Caroline must have felt as she found herself now in 2nd place, which is still such a great result. I also felt bad that I couldn’t celebrate with the crowds in the last ¼ mile because I was scared I would be caught. But one thing I was so happy about is the win, and to have finally put my money where my mouth is. And to top off and share such a great moment in my life and my career was the gift of having my brother, Justin, and my sister, Melissa there at the finish line. I was also blessed to have my coach, Siri bringing me home along with my dear friends. To see the emotion and joy on their faces is like nothing I have ever experienced before and that is what made winning so worthwhile.
As a triathlete, I have no single weapon, however, I do have a shed full of useful tools. I may not have the fastest swim, bike or run time, but that’s ok. It’s the combination of my tools that make me one of the best triathletes. I race to get over the finish line first. Sometimes my tools are sharp enough, and I nail it. Other times I am missing the right spanner. A little footnote about this analogy: my Dad is a carpenter and I grew up around a bloody big shed and a whole lot of tools!
Congratulations to all my fellow competitors and the finishers of the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. Thank you for making this a memory that will last as long as I live. I am very proud of my 4th World Title and all the things I have accomplished along the way. It doesn’t stop here. My next race is this weekend: IM 70.3 Miami. Then on IM Arizona on November 18th. And to round off the season, my final race will be IM 70.3 Phuket on December 2nd. These races could go either way, but I plan on racing them the best I can.