Sunday, October 19, 2014

The 2014 World Championships: The Race of My Life

“No one ever said it would be easy.  They said it would be worth it.”  Those words echoed through my mind on Saturday October 11th through the quiet storm of emotions that were raging as I ran down the steamy Queen K highway.

 Lins, Krops and I

  I’ll be honest.  I did not want to write this race report.  There are multiple reasons for that, most of which are rooted in my own wanting to avoid reliving the experience and longing to move on without having to rehash the painful details.  After the Ironman World Championships, as I sat with a good friend on a sunny balcony listening to the sound of cheerful banter of my Coeur Sports teammates with the waves crashing in, she became the voice of reason.  She said, “I think it’s important that you share your experiences as a pro, Kim, especially experiences like this one.  Many people don’t get to see the hard side where sometimes things fall apart despite your best preparations.  Sometimes pros gloss over it like it was no big deal or just another day at the office to avoid looking vulnerable or looking like they made mistakes.  People who have loved your blog in the past, have loved it because you never did that.  Don’t you start now.”  I told her my reasons for the shiny happy blog, including me not wanting to make my recent race something more important or significant than it was, but she wasn’t buying it.  So thanks, Michelle.  This one is for you.

Three amigos at the pro meeting

I came into the World Championship tentatively optimistic.  I’d been nursing a hip /glute / hamstring issue through September and early October, but it seemed to be holding up well due to some great PT with Vesla 360.  I had come to the big island earlier than usual to prepare my body for some of the challenges I didn’t deal with as well the previous year including heat, humidity and nutrition.  My mental outlook felt good and I was ready for an incredibly hard mental and physical day.  

When I lined up to tread water with the 35 best women in the world, I didn’t feel pressure.  Hearing the helicopters buzz overhead and the voice of Mike Reilly announcing, I didn’t feel I had anything to prove.  I prayed for a super solid day where I would celebrate this season and get to use my gifts to their utmost ability.  I looked into the eyes of the other women who I’d seen grace the covers of magazines, holding banners above their heads and knew for the first time that I belonged with this group.  It was a good feeling.  I came to compete and it was going to be a great day. 

When the cannon fired, blood coursed through my veins like hot lava...breath, stroke, breath, stroke.  There was no time for sighting; I followed the bodies around me by watching them underwater mirroring their every movement.  For a full minute, I was redlining in harmony with a small group of five to six women which I knew included Beth and Linsey, so I was exceptionally happy with my position.  Then, just like that, out of the corner of my eye the body at my right swerved and I was caught alone.  I looked up just in time to see the group start taking a beeline closer to the buoy and with that I knew I had to find the power to surge.  It was now or never.  Unfortunately, my body’s answer was "no" and the group gapped me by five feet.  I continued to push, but they moved farther and farther away and I knew it was going to be a very long 2.4 mile solo swim.  The swell was up and it seemed to catch the group in just the right way leaving me high and dry.  It was hard to sight and the buoys seemed incredibly far in between.  “Just keep swimming hard,” I told myself for the duration, but it was hard to stay focused on straightest course, especially on the way back.  The current seemed to be pulling me too far to the right inside the buoy lines.  I heard kayakers yelling “LEFT!!” for a majority of the return trip and I kept thinking “TRUST ME, I’m TRYING!!”  I tried not to swallow too much salt water, as I know that can be a recipe for disaster, but at times I’d turn to breathe at exactly the same time as a swell or chop and get a nice big gulp.  
I heard other athletes being announced as they were coming out of the water, and tried not to let it get me down.  Ironman is a very long day and would not be decided in the first hour of a nine plus (or even longer in my case) hour day.  I excited the water, ran through T1 and almost had a small heart attack when I saw the time clock at the bike mount.  

Out onto the bike I felt optimistic.  I’ve been biking well lately when my hip was willing to push and my coach and I had taken a conservative plan for the first portion of the race to make sure that area was happy and not overworked.  It would also give me a chance to start eating and drinking early and with my sweat rate of 60+oz per hour in hot conditions, this was key.  Heading out to the turn-around the highlights were hearing plenty of great cheers and of course staring into the face of a smiling ear to ear Chrissie Wellington.  My heart  rate was soaring and my power seemed a little slow to respond.  I could feel my glute not wanting to push quite as hard as I was hoping, but it often tightens up with the rest period during taper so I wasn’t overly concerned.  I couldn’t help but notice the other girls bombing down the other side of the road before I was even close to the turn around, but I tried to ignore it.  I repeated my mantras for the day “patience pays off, smart consistent following the plan, leave the outcomes alone” hoping they would ward off any negative thoughts. I slugged down two 28oz bottles in the first fifty minutes so I was feeling pretty good about my nutrition progress.  Headed out on the Queen K, I wasn’t really thrilled with my power average, so I attempted to start pushing on it, but the hip just didn’t seem to love my effort so I backed off. More patience necessary.  The age group men caught me much faster than I anticipated, and by 30 miles, I was already dealing with their constant passing, but this year I was mentally prepared for it.  I stayed away from their riff-raff and made sure to maintain a good distance. 

The middle miles up to Hawi started getting windy and I started to let the negative thoughts creep in about my glute not functioning as well as I’d hoped.  I thought hitting these powers was going to come easily and it seemed to be anything but.  The goals coach and I had set were the exact same as I had done the last two races, but unfortunately, my body didn’t seem to be pulling it off.  Slugging back Powerbar Perform, I soldiered on, but not with my usual gusto.  I started doubting myself and my body already, wondering if I was going to even be able to pull together a solid day.  As the winds to Hawi worsened, my outlook grew dimmer and I started thinking about just trying to enjoy the scenery out there.  I watched the blue water while the men passed me, drafting in droves.  I tried to enjoy riding my bike as that was one of the reasons I came, to enjoy the day.  

We hit Hawi and were finally rewarded with some nice winds coming down the mountain.  I remembered my coach's instructions, that if I had to make decisions out there, I should make them in light of preserving the last 30 miles of the bike as being my strongest of the day.  At this rate, they were bound to be as I’d lost so much focus I was just hanging out on my bike for the first 65 miles.  The thing that worried me most was that I was averaging 2.5-3 bottles per hour and didn’t even remotely have to pee.  My stomach wasn’t feeling all that spectacular and I’d started skipping gels to cut down on my carbohydrate content in hopes of feeling a little more settled.  When we made the turn toward home back onto the K, I finally made a decision.  If I did ONE thing correctly on this bike, it was going to be this 30 mile section.  I stopped sitting up (which I did way too much of the first 60 miles, not very aero in the Kona wind) and babying my glute.  I decided that I came here to run this body into the ground, so I had better start doing it and get my act together.  Often times the momentum (or lack thereof) on this very tough section back to town bleeds directly into the marathon.  I was hoping if somehow I could turn this ride around, maybe I still had the chance to run up to my capabilities and feel good about my efforts.  

I started tussling with the men that wanted to pass me and then sit up and eat/drink their buffet.  My power numbers started to resemble something of normalcy and I gained a little momentum back.  I was still worried that I was chugging fluid and it didn’t seem to be moving through my system, but I knew the answer was not to stop.  That was out of the question. I took a caffeinated gel and pushed as the tailwind turned into a headwind for the last 20 miles back to town.  

I knew by my time, I hadn’t broken any records and was most likely pushing the very back of the women’s professional field.  However, I believed that I could still run a decent marathon that I would be proud of at the end of the day.  In T2, I stopped at the restroom to assess the hydration and the news was not good.  “I can still do this!” I told myself and headed out on the run.  For the first ten miles through town I felt ok, my stomach was a little testy so I took some gas-X and TUMS, which I always have with me in my Fuelbelt pouch.  I took some salt tablets too just in case.  I couldn’t stand the thought of more sports drink so I took coke from aid station one right through.  My heart rate seemed to be right where it should be and I didn’t feel too hot which was a big change from the previous year.  I focused on what I could control and the hip only hurt slightly which was completely manageable. 

I heard plenty of cheers and looked forward to seeing familiar faces which helped out on Alii as we ran.  I seemed to be passing a lot of people and I started thinking a 3:10 or below might be within reach.  I started feeling a little more “off” in the stomach near the turn up Palani near the 10 mile mark, so I took more meds hoping to solve the issues. 

By the eleven mile mark out on the Queen K, my stomach started feeling like it was carrying a brick.  The harder I pushed, the worse the pain got.  I slowed down considerably to try to keep things moving and maybe see if my body would normalize, but to no avail.  I stopped to try and throw up, no dice.  I started to jog praying for it to let up, but it continued to worsen.  Little by little I tried to run and then would walk hoping it would go away.  The people I had passed on Alii started slowly passing me back one by one.  Many athletes encouraged me as they went by and told me to keep going.  I tried to stay positive, but things were going downhill fast.  Somewhere between 14-16 miles, I realized that finishing this race at all was going to be a real challenge.  I was feeling so sick I wanted to lie down alongside the road and just roll around in pain.  Walk, jog, walk, jog... watch pro women run by on the other side, cheer for them, repeat.  My heart sank.  This was the final verdict of my day.  I thought about flagging down the medical team at the next aid station and getting a ride back to town.  I passed one pro woman who was also walking during my slow jog phase and she said “nice running” and I didn’t know whether to laugh or start crying.  We were both having long days, but she wasn’t quitting either. 

I stopped taking in all calories except coke and began running on fumes.  The energy lab miles were a blur.  I’m not sure what happened in there, but the other top age group women were now right on my heels and passing and it was great to see my Coeur Sports teammates doing so well, along with my friend Andrea.  In the end, I had forgotten what it was like to be out among the masses cheering each other on even when the high hopes were long over.  The highlight reel from the last six miles included lots of puking (and rallying) and developing a very intimate relationship with a cone at mile 24.  The medical team told me if I didn’t let go, I would be taken in so eventually I did pry myself off and onto all fours, crawling and eventually walking.  Tears streamed down my face through the final miles just as they had the year before, but for entirely different reasons.  I was disappointed in the times I’d given up on myself out there, but I was also thinking about my cousin Mike’s family and how no matter what pain I was in, the pain they faced on a daily basis overshadowed this small blip of my tough day by leaps and bounds.  The strength they have shown recently is like nothing I have ever seen.  If they could do it, I could do it.  I knew Mike was watching and I made a promise not to quit no matter what happened out there.  I thought about my QT2 teammates, Beth, Linsey and Cait all pushing the limits out there regardless of the kind of day they were having and about all my teammates, FYP athletes, Pitt tri club members, Boulder Tri Camp members (specifically my friend Ashley C. who just did her first half IM), friends and family back home watching and cheering me on.  The rubber had met the road and I’d come out victorious over the demons telling me to pull the plug and go home.  I didn’t break any records.  In fact, I didn’t even beat my very first Ironman ever (10:56) on the big island, but I did manage to finish, which at times seemed all but impossible.  My body had been wrung out and left for dead, but the spirit was stronger.  I wondered if I had let myself quit that day, would I ever forgive myself for the promise I had made.  I decided I wouldn’t and for my own reasons, I pressed on.  Other pros had to make their own decisions with other races on the horizon.  For me, this was the right decision that day as I knew this was my final race of the season. 
Alii drive was lined with friends and family and running down it still felt like a party with thousands of your closest friends.  They cheered like I was winning the whole race and maybe to them, I was.  It was getting dark and my finish had looked completely different in my mind’s eye.  Instead of barreling down it guns blazing, I was willing one foot in front of the other hoping my body wouldn’t shut down minutes from the finish line.  When Mike finally said my name, he saw my expression and announced “it was a tough day, great job Kim” and I was being caught by the volunteers.  Safe at last. Off to the medical tent where I lost eight pounds and was treated with lots of TLC.
Even now I know this day was bigger than me. 

What I wrote on Facebook as my status I believe with all my heart. 

"There are days where you ask of your body & it gives you everything it can. Even though it might not be the day you hoped to have, you realize that those are the days where you do exactly what an Ironman does, finish. You finish and give thanks for all the wonderful people in your life. You finish because you made a promise to yourself and someone who you know is watching you from above. You finish because it's a gift & you never EVER take that for granted. Thanks for all your support! I am an Ironman World Champion finisher once again!"

It doesn’t make it sting less, but it does help me to know that my friends and family are there for me no matter the outcome of one day.  I will not let this race define me as an athlete or a person.  There are lessons to be learned and I’m still in the process of figuring out what those are for me.  The biggest one was that sometimes the important part is learning the hard way not to “judge” the race during the early throws when not much has been decided yet.  I lost focus and that was on me.  The nutrition piece in Kona is always a tough one as well and it might have been the salt water sloshing around in my belly or it might have just been my super sweat rate again requiring the amount of sports drink that is beyond all normal limits but hard to absorb at that same rate.  Either way, the big island and I had some time to come to peace afterward and having Kyle with me throughout the day was a huge reason why I could keep trucking on long after my day was supposed to be finished.

Some words from one of my athletes, Scott, were a welcome insight into another perspective.

"Adversity introduces us to ourselves.  I was more proud to have you as my Coach yesterday than if you had won the whole dang thing. Don't get me wrong I wish you all the best and the race of your dreams but when things all went to hell you kept moving. Anybody can shine when everything is going great, but show me what someone does when it all falls apart and I'll tell you who they are.

You looked into the abyss and you kept putting one foot in front of the other, to me there is nothing more noble. I know something about dark places albeit one of my own making and I know what it takes to keep your feet moving and there aren't many willing to walk through fear and pain.

I don't know why stuff like that happens but I no longer spend a lot of time questioning it. I have found that everything happens for a reason and if I keep putting one foot in front of the other the reason will be revealed. I strongly suspect someday you will be able to draw on Saturday to help yourself or more likely in service to someone you care about.

Whatever the reason, you were a champion on Saturday."

Congrats to all of the finishers as it was a VERY tough day out there and being alongside you was a privledge and an honor.  It reminded me about everything good about the sport as people tried with all their might to help me get to that finish line.  Thank you for that!  Congratulations to the other professional women who continue to inspire me to want to work harder than I ever have before and bring out the best in me with their talent and tenacity.  Thank you to my husband, Kyle, for never giving up on me and helping me through the ups and downs of this long season.  Thank you to my coach, Jesse, for being so patient and continuing to support me through injury and the times when you wanted to kill me!  Thank you to my family, friends, Facebook and blog supporters who took time to write a kind word of support about a tough day.  Thank you to the other athletes out there who renewed my hope in the sport and let me see again why I do love this group of swimming, biking and running athletes so very much.  Thank you to my sponsors Ultragrain, Coeur Sports, Powerbar, Rudy Project, QT2 Systems, Fuelbelt, NormaTec, Top Gear Bicycle Shop, Biotta and BlueSeventy for your continued support throughout the year so that I can have the best products and enjoy relationships with companies I truly believe in.  Thank you for reading!

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”  --- Martin Luther King Jr.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Looking Back To Go Full Steam Ahead! Kona 2014

The other day my phone required I make some data room for a new update and I realized that I had 1,243 pictures saved, which might be part of the "storage" problem.  I started looking back through the last year hoping to delete some that I didn't have any need for anymore.  Many pictures were just randomness I took of things I wanted to save or thought I might use for the blog.  Other pictures were so interesting and things I forgot completely about since they were well over a year old.  It was a neat way to look through my life since I traveled to Kona in 2013 for this trip to the World Championships last year.  I decided it would be nice to share a bit of what the past year has held and use this as a way to prepare for the task at hand on Saturday as I attempt this 140.6 mile distance yet again.  So here's a peek into what has happened over the last year! 

 I trained in one of the harshest winters we've had in awhile!  Notice the yak-tracks and piles of snow in the January time frame!  I started training for this season on November 18th of 2013!  Geez!

 I put my Fuel Your Passion athletes through testing, planned their seasons and we qualified for 1/2 I World Champs and did plenty of other cool races!
 I ate salads.  I must have had 45 pictures of salads on my phone when it came down to it. If I had to guess, I'd imagine I ate somewhere in the range of 213 salads since November of last year started!  I love salad.  That's a good thing because I SURE eat a lot of it!
 I met amazing sponsors like Coeur Sports and got to know a company helping to do great things in the sports for women, including making them look and feel more confident while going FAST!
I went to QT2 camp for 17 days in Clermont, FL in February and suffered the wrath of Coach Jesse's little black book where every day was a surprise of heart pumping, gear grinding goodness! I met some awesome folks and hung out with some serious athletes who taught me what it means to be on your game. 

 I TRX'ed with my housemates
 At camp, I did more in one day than I do for an Ironman in terms of total hours of training, including running into the night with headlamps and eating more sports nutrition products than should ever be consumed during a 24 hour period.
 I got my heat training on preparing for Ironman Melbourne in March within the confines of my home since it was 40 degrees outside back in PA when I returned from Florida camp! 

 I hooked up with Ultragrain, the makers of White Whole Wheat and All Purpose Flour (with a white whole wheat component), and loved making smart nutrition choices!  I baked some great muffins, made pancakes and got to use this wonderful  sponsor's product for all kinds of carbohydrate loading!
 I went to Melbourne and had the race of my life just going hard all day, following my plan and trusting that I was giving it my all!  One of the days I will never forget as long as I live!
 After the race, I hung out with this guy and explored the area drinking a few libations and just having a good old time!
 I collected sayings like this on my phone all year long and scrolled through them when life got tough or I wondered what the heck I was doing with all my time swimming, biking and running.
 I took pictures of food like it was my job making all kinds of colorful dishes like this butternut squash, kale, cranberry creation during the spring! 
I shared the NormaTec love when I wasn't sitting in them myself!  Mandy also approved of their ability to help tired legs feel better! 
I continued to ride my bike, A LOT, indoors and out.  This wasn't a bad view for one of my easy rides right at our pond in the front yard! 

  I did open water swims with my athletes and enjoyed getting to hang out with them on a more personal level!
 We headed to Eagleman 70.3 to get in a half IM mid-June and prep for Ironman Lake Placid in July!
 We (ok, well, Kyle mostly) planted the garden and watched it grow through the summer with lots of wonderful things including: peppers, squash, tomatoes, kale, beets, hot peppers and peas.
 I rode with my friends in my final Lake Placid prep and thanked my lucky stars I know people as crazy enough as me who like to ride their bike for 6 hours straight!
 I rode my trainer some more! Grinding out the last hard intervals before I finally got to take off that blue bracelet from Eagleman (a little reminder to get my act together).
 I held new little cuties like Charlie, Jen and Jeremy's new baby!  He's so much bigger now!  Hard to believe!
 I got my nails did with Alyssa so I could treat them nicely before ripping them to shreds on the Placid course!
 I had the best support team ever and managed to take home a 2nd place finish on a day where I wasn't feeling all that stellar and left every ounce out on that course! 
 I cheered in the midnight finishers with Mike R. and the crowd - so cool!!
 I got back, recovered and road some more with this chick who I also call my therapist (thanks Jocelyn)!
 I coached a tri camp in Boulder where I met some absolutely fabulous people and enjoyed getting to know them!
 I suited up again for Ironman Wisconsin in September, even with some nagging niggles, hoping I might be able to do something special there!  I don't regret it!  I had a so-so swim, decent bike and came into the run in 4th, but was forced to make the call to pull out of the race due to the same niggles.  It was the right move!  You never know unless you try!
 I turned 35 (YIKES!) and had a nice dinner with the best Moms (love you guys!) & husband in the world!
 When it turned into the most beautiful fall weather in PA, I stayed inside and turned up heat while guzzling bottles on my trainer to help prepare my body for the Kona heat!
 I was brought back to health by these great people, Aimee and Frank, at Vesla 360
Thanks to you both!  Ready to let it rip on Saturday!
 I realized that my life is pretty amazing and that I've had a spectacular year.  I say that now NOT because of results, but because I've been to truly experience what it's like to be a professional in this sport.  I've been surrounded by people who care about me deeply and only want the best for me and because of that, I truly feel that the best is yet to come. 
 Finally, we are up to date with the now!  Hanging with my teammate of many years, Beth, has made this trip truly special and something I am so glad we can do together.  From two little triathletes in 2006 who were just getting started, to two professionals on the big island of Hawaii competing with the best in the world, life is pretty neat!
 I've had great time seeing my friend Andrea from Melbourne again and riding up to Hawi to see how the winds were feeling last week!
 Eating Acai bowls (look it up if you don't know what it is - AWESOME in a bowl!)
 Kona sunsets aren't so bad!
Hanging with my friend Jennifer at church was a great reminder that all of this is part of a much bigger plan that doesn't just encompass this race.  This coming Saturday will be about me against me.  It will be about showing my love of what I'm doing, testing myself against the conditions and celebrating the many gifts I've been given.  The outcome doesn't matter as much as that I left it all out there and show my true inner love of this sport and this triathlon community.  If that happens, I will be truly pleased.

I like to keep someone special in mind for each of my big races as it really helps me to keep in the forefront that these races are not all about me.  I was really soul searching for this one, then it stood out to me like it was the only possible answer that could even make sense.  This race is for my cousin Micheal Lloyd Jr.
I grew up next to six cousins in the Lloyd family and we spent a lot of time together making forts and climbing trees.  My cousin, Mike, was the oldest of the brothers and sisters and was an example for me, and for his younger siblings.  He had an infectious smile and always found a way to put a positive spin on things or make you laugh.  He was a smart and savvy businessman, but always cared more about people and his family than anything else in this world.  His wife Melanie, and four boys, Dylan, Kaleb, Blake, and Andrew were the light of his life.

Mike passed away less than a month ago of unexpected unknown causes at only 40 years old.  He will be severely missed and his memory will live on for our entire lives through a smile, a song, and a feeling we have when we think about our memories of making apple cider with pap, swimming at the river, or taking hayrides with our family.  It was pretty obvious that this one is for you Micheal.

 The Lloyd family, Nathan, Mike, Rachel, Uncle Mike, Aunt Jayne Jessica & Aaron
 (minus one - Grace!)

I promise to honor your memory and who you are by never complaining and always cherishing this experience.  No matter how hard it gets, I will think of you and how passionate you were about your life and family.  

“The only balm to sorrow is memory; the only salve for the pain of losing someone to death is acknowledging the life that existed before.” by Leo Tolstoy

Mike, your family is an example of exactly the family I hope to have one day and you led it as a Godly man of your household.  I love you and I will always miss you. 

#133 signing off!  See you on the other side!