Ironman World CHampionship
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.
10/20/2012 07:57:09 am
Great post! I can picture it all. I'm thrilled for you :)
5/15/2016 07:40:07 am
Absolutely amazing adventure. Congratulations.
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Professional cyclist turned professional triathlete living in Boulder, CO.