The morning after the race, the town was littered with athletes limping around which was incredibly humorous to watch, especially since I could relate. At the awards ceremony that night I drank a delicious Longboard beer from the Kona Brewing Company and was invited on stage to receive an award for winning my age group. Of course I sported my OTF Multisport Chobani cycling jacket and received a bunch of questions asking what exactly Chobani was…only the most delicious Greek yogurt ever!!
I traded my Chobani jacket for a World Champion jersey and raised that hard-earned trophy bowl (the Hawaiian name escapes me now) over my head, smiled for the cameras, and congratulated my fellow competitors on the podium. I quickly returned to join my family and friends and watched the rest of the age group winners and pros take the stage.
Post-awards I headed to the K Swiss after party. Imagine all of your heroes and role models having a great time in a confined bar area. Now imagine that bar on the beach in Kona, HI. I had the honor and privilege of meeting some of the world’s finest athletes, pros and amateurs alike. This finished off the most amazing weekend of my life and one that I will never forget (thanks to this blog-as many of my family members know I have an awful memory).
No part of my experience in Kona would have been possible without all of the help, support, and encouragement from my friends and family. Thinking about everyone who traveled to Kona and who were in Kona in spirit gave me so much strength to draw from during the race. I was overwhelemed by the number of messages people sent me wishing me well for the race and congratulating me on finishing. My friends and family from Top Dog Cycle even threw me a surprise party when I returned home!! Huge shout out to my uncle Peter, Ulises, and Natalia for organizing it and the rest of the TDC family for coming out for drinks, cake, and wings :)
And finally, a huge congratulations is in order for all of the finishers!!! You are an IRONMAN!
After a night of intermittent sleeping, I awoke two minutes before all my alarms were about to go off. I ate some oatmeal and a Bonk Breaker bar for breakfast with some water and coffee. Right before leaving my room, I wrote "SMILE!" on my hand to serve as a reminder throughout the day.
I meandered down to body marking and transition area under the pre-dawn skies. There was an eerie silence among the athletes, probably a combination of nerves and still being mostly asleep. There were a multitude of incredible volunteers guiding us along and helping the athletes pump up their tires in transition area. After setting up my bike, helmet, and glasses, I tried to calm myself (my hands were shaking) and sat down along the wall in transition. I gazed out among the thousands of bikes and athletes performing their pre-race routines and scampering to the port-a-potties. I chuckled a little bit to myself, thinking, “why is it that we enjoy waking up at 4AM and punishing our bodies for an entire day?” We do though. My friend Joe came to join me and chat for a while before it was time to head to the swim start.
2.4 mile SWIM 1:03:18
I smoothly pulled on my Blueseventy swimskin, ate a gel, and joined the queue of athletes being herded into the water. The bay was surrounded by rows of fans and photographers. I could feel the energy building until the first two cannons sounded for the pro races. I slowly waded into the water and swam out to the start line where two rows of people were already lined up. There were 15 minutes until the start time still, but I figured treading water would be an adequate warm up.
With just a few minutes until the cannon, everyone started to get a bit feisty! Everyone wanted to be towards the front while the paddle boarders and kayakers were fighting to keep everyone behind the start line. 60 seconds…30 seconds…15 seconds…BOOM! Let the brawl begin! Outside of cage fighting and rugby, the start of the Ironman World Championships might be the sport most comparable to the start of the Hunger Games. My goal was to find someone’s feet and stay on them. After countless kicks to the face, scratches, punches, etc. I stopped quickly to fix my goggles, hoped I would not come out of the water with a black eye, and found a suitable pair of feet to hop on. I barely spotted buoys at all, figuring that the mass of people must be headed in the same general direction. After turning at the sailboat, the way back to the pier was a breeze! The Powerbar marker became closer and closer until you could hear the roar of the crowds lining the pier. I hurried up the stairs, easily peeled off my swimskin-thanks to the ingenious zipper design, grabbed a hose and washed off the salt water, then ran to pick up my bike bag. Being forced to run around the transition area was actually nice since I had a few moments to think about where my bike actually was and my plan of attack for getting the bike out.
112 mile BIKE 5:41:02
I hastily took my bike and ran it out to the bike mount area. I quickly put my feet in my shoes and pedaled out through the crowds searching for my parents who informed me I was in 5th place in my age group! Must have been a decent swim for me…
My plan on the bike was to ride the first 30 miles easy, making sure it felt like I was spinning, the second 30 up to Hawi similarly while assessing how I was feeling in preparation for the journey back home. I wanted to make sure I was going to feel good starting the run, so the last few miles would be at the maximum effort I could sustain while not taxing my legs too much.
In short, the plan worked very, very well. Despite being passed by a multitude of ambitious triathletes in the first 60 miles, I started moving on the way up Hawi and felt strong on the way back to town. The cross winds added a whole other element to the race. Despite the fear of being blown off my bike while traveling downhill in my aero bars at 40+ mph, it helped to take my mind off of how much further I had to go. The bike portion went by surprisingly fast as I had anticipated that this would be the most challenging portion for me mentally. I knew the range of bib numbers for the women in my age group and reckoned I was in first when I got back to town!
The only problem was that immediately after jumping on my bike and assessing the state of my body post-swim, I realized I felt quite ill. I kept puking, yet nothing really came up. My stomach felt bloated and upset and when I tried to start following my nutrition plan-consisting of IM Perform, Bonk Breakers, and a concentrated Hammer drink-I realized I was making the situation much worse. I told myself I had 5+ hours to figure this out, but at this point I was not convinced I was going to be able to run. About halfway through the bike I scrapped my nutrition plan and started to drink solely Coke and water. I figured I didn’t have much to lose at this point. My stomach gradually started to feel better, but I knew I was compromising my hydration as I was not consuming nearly enough fluids. I had passed through multiple aid stations (each ~7 miles apart) without even taking a sip of any liquids I had on my bike. I even missed grabbing a bottle at one of the aid stations. My goal was to just get back to town and start on the run. At least on the run I would not have to worry about any mechanical issues and I knew I had done a marathon once where I consumed nothing but two gels (of course this had been in WA and not the lava fields of HI).
26.2 mile RUN 3:27:55
After the wonderful transition volunteers grabbed my bike from me, I ran around the transition area to pick up my run bag. Boy did it feel good to be running. I grabbed my bag, ripped my new Saucony Kinvara 3 flats out, slid them onto my feet, clipped on my number belt and bolted for the run out. I think the volunteers were confused about me being in such a hurry considering I had an entire marathon ahead of me. I saw my parents on my way out who told me that I was indeed in 1st in my age group!
Immediately after pulling my shoes on, I realized there was a problem. The previous day I had put elastic laces on my flats and borrowed scissors from the hotel desk to trim the laces. After cutting off the excess laces, I put the cut pieces into the shoes to carry back up to my room. Apparently I had removed the extra elastic from the left shoe…but not the right one. I was now pounding on the laces with every step and for some reason refused to stop for 20 seconds to remove the pieces. It was a painful run, to say the least.
I felt GREAT for the first 5 miles out of town to the south. I felt like I was jogging, yet I was passing people right and left. There were people lining the streets for the entire 5 miles and lots of Wattie Ink fans!!! I was trying to eat and drink at the aid stations to make up for lost fluids on the bike and I remember my mom telling me to stay hydrated as I left T2. Once we turned around to head back to town, things started going south.
My legs started to feel tired and my stomach became more upset. I had to make a few port-a-potty stops (we’re all athletes here, right?!) but kept telling myself I just needed to make it back to town, by then I would be nearly halfway! It was a rough 5ish miles back but I was cheered along by Ryan from Blueseventy, Wattie and Heather, and even Jimmy Bean (assistant coach from my UW days)!
By the time I made it back to town, my parents told me I had a 6 minute lead over my Russian competitor, Maria Lemeseva. Coach Larry had been talking to my parents all day and he told them to tell me to go easy up the steep, but short, Palani hill before a left hand turn onto the epic Queen K highway. At this point I realized I still was not even halfway through a MARATHON and had the most difficult segment to go. The Queen K to Energy Lab is an out and back segment stretching from about mile 11 to mile 25. It is devoid of shade, cheering fans, and pretty much all signs of life outside of the thousands of runners suffering and a few much-welcomed aid stations. I honestly didn't know how I was going to make it. I was ready to stop and walk the rest of the way. Periodically I began to feel chilled even though it must have been in the 90’s out on the blacktop with high percentages of humidity. I heard Larry’s voice in my head “You just have to fall apart the least,” “You can walk through aid stations, it will be fine.”
My goal was to make it to the entrance to the Energy Lab. The Queen K was endless though! I kept telling myself it must be over the next hill, then the next one, then, “Oh it looks like there are tents and cars at the top of this hill, the turn must be here!” It wasn’t. Finally I made it to the famed Energy Lab, which was actually a welcomed divergence from the monotony of the Queen K. At the Energy Lab turn around I glanced at my watch to time the lead I had on Maria. I had lost 2 minutes! There was nothing more I could do if she were to pass me now. I had nothing left in me and I was more concerned with just finishing the race at this point. After heading out of the Energy Lab we were on our way back to town on the Queen K. I was taking it aid station by aid station at this point. Grabbing nothing more than sponges and small cups of water, as that was all my body could handle. I kept looking forward to the next station since it would be a welcomed respite from, what felt like a sad jog I was struggling to keep up. I think my brain started to shut down or something because I barely remember much of the end. All I could think of was my friends and family waiting for me at the finish line and how nice it would be to tear my shoes off my blistered and burning feet.
A nice Australian man started running with me and was talking about how he was not having one of his best races this year. It was great to have someone dragging me along a bit, but I felt bad that my responses were probably not much more than incoherent jumbles of strange sounds. The Queen K literally took FOREVER to run. Miles slowly ticked by. I just needed to make it to mile 25! Then I would be at the top of Palani and the finish would be all downhill from there.
Mile 25 eventually came. I saw my parents and tried to ask how much of a lead I had. I was not sure how much longer my body was going to last before refusing to continue on and was hoping that, after leading for this long, I would not be passed so close to the finish line. It was such an interesting feeling…reaching that fabled line where you are not sure how much longer your body will endure this level of effort, but you just hope it can make it a few more steps, to the end of the street, around the next corner…
I ran down the hill on Palani, did some sort of loop that I don’t remember much of, and somehow ended up on Ali’i Drive. The streets were teeming with fans lined along the sides of the finishing straight. I could hear the music and people screaming but my mind and body began to shut down. My only thoughts became, “Finish line, finish line, finish line.”
And then, there was that moment. That moment I had dreamed of for so many nights before closing my eyes, while finishing up hard workouts, while stepping onto the airplane to Kona. I can barely even remember it, but I remember the emotions. The wild noises and music of the finish line faded from my mind and I felt as though a 1000-lb weight had fallen off my shoulders. I could stop running, I could collapse and take off my shoes (ok, well I couldn't take off my shoes, but the volunteers were kind enough to help out). Finish line volunteers, Starla and her husband, caught me and helped me keep moving. Tears started flowing down my face, tears of joy, relief, and excitement. “Allison Linnell, you are an IRONMAN!” I don’t remember the announcer saying this but people assure me that it did indeed happen. After hours of training through thunder storms, sideways rain, blistering mid-day heat, and through the breakdowns and setbacks, and the triumphs and friendships, I had achieved one of my goals. Each and every second of my journey-smiles and tears alike-was worth it, for I had become an Ironman.
To date, this was the most incredible moment of my entire life.
Starla sat me down in the medical tent and my gnarly, shriveled, bleeding feet were attended to. I walked to a patch of nearby grass with my feet wrapped in towels and laid myself down. Still feeling quite ill, I had to move away from the pizza and ice cream, and soon to the bathroom. At some point I managed to go find my parents who had nothing but smiles for me. I meandered back to my hotel room and took a much needed shower which burned all of my cuts and chaffing like never before. Ouch.
One of the best parts of race day was the 16th hour of the race. The time cut off is 17 hours, or 12AM, so at 11PM the streets are crowded with thousands of fans, bright lights on the finish line and blaring music. It was more exciting than any New Year’s Eve party to say the least.
On Friday morning, you could feel the tension and nerves building in the hotel and among the few athletes mulling around the town. I was shaking with nerves. I kept trying to use self-talk and remind myself that I was doing this for fun. My time or place did not matter, I just wanted to finish my FIRST EVER IRONMAN!!! But my nerves continued to get the best of me…
I made matters worse when I tried to pull on my new swimskin to go for a quick swim, when, underestimating my own strength, I accidentally tore it along the crotch! Now what was I to do? Coach Larry had told me to swim, bike, and then run this morning. What if I biked, ran, and then swam? This could seriously impact my race (yes, it does sound ridiculous looking back). I made a phone call to Ryan to let him know what had happened. As much as I tried to prevent sending the sound of my tears through the phone, I imagine Ryan was probably able to discern the stress in my voice. I was so thankful for Ryan’s calm demeanor. He tried to console me, telling me not to stress the day before my race. They would figure it out and he would try and get me another swimskin that day! Soon after, I called Larry. He was probably able to hear my voice cracking as well. Larry assured me that I would be fine and to just go swim, bike, and run easy then test out the swimskin for a few minutes later in the day. Next thing I knew, I was out the door, finishing up my last few activities before not moving from my bed for the rest of the day. Everything went as planned and I felt decent-a bit tired, but I didn’t worry about it.
With one minute left to go in my short run, I spotted my parents heading into the hotel! I caught up with them and started talking, when I suddenly felt dizzy. After enduring previous fainting experiences, I quickly plopped myself down onto the sidewalk before fainting. If I was nervous before the morning workout, I was freaking out and on edge after this episode…and it was not even 9AM. After a quick, much needed breakfast, I headed back to my room to mentally and physically try and “chill.”
Ryan called me up and told me he could swing by the lobby of my hotel to drop off my new swimskin. I met him down in the lobby, with an apologetic face and my torn swimskin in hand. Ryan and I sat down and once we started talking I was tearing up, trying to avoid saying too much to prevent the tears from flowing down my face. I told Ryan I was just so nervous for my race and felt like there was so much pressure and such high expectations for me. What if I didn’t live up to them? What if I disappointed my friends and family who have been so supportive throughout my whole journey? Ryan provided me with comforting words of wisdom and assured me everything would be fine! It was my first IM after all and it was just one race. There would be more to come. Just relax and enjoy the experience. Take in all of the sights, sounds, smells, etc. and SMILE! You are here to have fun! Ryan-thank you, not only for the new swimskin, but for reassuring me and calming me down. I apologize for nearly breaking down into tears when you really just wanted to drop something off!!!
The rest of Friday consisted of a Criminal Minds marathon and lounging around in bed. After dinner with my parents, pasta of course, I headed to bed early anticipating an early wake up. I set three alarms on my phone, the alarm clock in the room, and requested a wakeup call.
The next day began with a quick swim out to the coffee barge where delicious Kona coffee is served to those who make the half-mile journey out to the boat. In case that was not enough of a morning excitement Thursday before the race, the famed Underpants Run followed soon after. I sported a pair of Cookie Monster briefs and ran with my fellow competitor Beto (AKA “IronBeto” http://www.road2ironman.com/) who donned some Batman boxer briefs and a large afro. After building up my Argon 18 E-112, I headed to the expo for a quick check up by the helpful guys at the Argon 18 booth. As if helping me with my bike was not enough, they were kind enough to give me a t-shirt as well! I also met up for a quick chat with Ryan from Blueseventy who was so generous in providing a PZ3TX swimskin and a new pair of goggles for my race! For lunch, my coach Larry was kind enough to coax his friend Heather Jackson into eating at the Kona Brewing Company with me. Heather and I enjoyed great conversation over some Thai Chicken Pizza and strawberry salad. She helped to remind me that there was no pressure for my race on Saturday. I definitely needed to hear that.
Daylight finally rolled around and I could not contain my excitement to run outside in the Hawaiian air and swim later that day after moving to the King Kamehameha hotel for the subsequent nights. My friends Mickey and Ryan Witte helped transport me and my baggage to the new hotel and accompanied me on a wonderful swim, full of sea turtle sightings and colorful fish! We then proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon at the expo in the hot sun with dearth amounts of fluids-a poor life decision when you have a race in a few days! That night I attended the Wattie Ink Happy Hour, thanks to Tina and Peter. They introduced me to the likes of Heather Jackson and Wattie himself!! I tried to hide my emotions but I was about to burst with excitement from meeting one of my role models, HJ (2nd at 2012 70.3 World Championships just a few weeks ago)!
The beginning of my trip was filled with some wonderful surprises, including meeting my coach, Larry, after working with him for about 5 months now. After a 24 hour day of travel, consisting of three plane rides (MIA->DC, DC->LAX, LAX->KONA), lots of sitting, and minimal sleeping/eating, I arrived in KONA, Hawaii Tuesday night. My friend Mike Danish (also competing in the race), was kind enough to pick up an exhausted and hungry triathlete friend from the airport at 9PM and drop me off at my hotel. Immediately after checking my hotel room for bedbugs and then dropping my bags, I ripped open my checked bag to uncover a Tupperware of delicious muffins my friends Mark and Rebecca cooked up for me! Needless to say, after skipping lunch and dinner, more than half of the 20-some muffins were consumed within five minutes. After hopping into bed and sleeping for a few hours, 2AM rolled around and the jetlag kicked in. I woke up with a grumbling stomach and the feeling that I would not be getting too much more sleep that night.
Professional cyclist turned professional triathlete living in Boulder, CO.