Wow! How have the last few weeks flown by? It seems like an eternity ago that I was in Hawaii and racing the Hawaii Ironman in Kona. And now I’m back home, back into the cold weather (hasn’t anyone told the weather gods that it’s Spring and should be getting warmer!?) and back into the swing of “normal life”. As I reflect on the time in Hawaii, the lead up to the race and race day itself, I can’t help be amazed at the achievement and the experience, and yet a little disappointed in the outcome of the race too. Here’s how it all panned out:

Firstly, I have to say that I am one of the luckiest competitors around to have my partner, Simon. competing in this race as well. I would have struggled with the hard training over a very bleak winter without him. We have had the most incredible support from our triathlon club, masters swimming club, friends and family. And my coach was also competing in Hawaii so it was a great chance to spend more time with him and his crew as I’m coached by distance otherwise and don’t get to train or race with them otherwise.

We packed our bikes – one can never have too much bubble wrap – and flew off to Brisbane for our connecting flight to Honolulu. Rule number 1. NEVER watch the baggage handlers with your bike. You don’t want to know (Two bikes, 6 flights and one broken spoke once we arrived back home).

The first flights were uneventful and we landed in Honolulu at the airport that is like a time warp back to the 1970’s. All wood and brown, and pebbles embedded into the side of the big bulky ‘trash cans’. There were hardly any sign postings for where to go, which queue to stand in, how to get to the next terminal for connecting flights. Airport staff were taking bags off the carousels and lining them up in the middle of the room because the carousels are too small. The Work Health and Safety was abysmal!

Our bikes arrived and we hauled them over to desk “zero” where we were told prior to boarding that our bags would be able to be sent through on our connecting flight to Kona. They would take our regular bags but they said the bikes were too big and we’d have to take them to the other terminal ourselves. Pointed in the general direction of the other terminal by some quite abrupt airport staff we headed off, only to find a terminal of chaos looking more like an overcrowded bus station with no clear indication of where to take the bike bags, where to line up, and no helpful staff to ask! Not great.

Two wrong queues later and we were getting frustrated, hot and very sweaty. I forgot to mention it was 30+ degrees, not air conditioned and oh-so-humid in the overcrowded terminal hall. Eventually we got to the front of a queue only to be told it was for the mainland flights and the inter-island flights were outside the building around the corner and into the next entrance. Aaarrrggghhh! Good thing we had 3 hours between connections just to be on the safe side.

Eventually we made it to Kailua Kona, and so did our bags – we had our doubts so there was much relief when they arrived on the same flight. Kona airport is tiny, outdoors with just big shelters overhead and a very helpful lady who got us straight onto a maxi-taxi for us to drive straight into town and directly to our awaiting apartment.

A short 10km journey took an hour and then we were finally at our home for the next 3 weeks. Exhausted, but ‘home’. No food, no coffee, and no sleep, but we made it. Next challenge; find something to eat. A trek up hill to get the legs working again and off to Walmart and Safeway was in order. Notably, visiting Walmart is probably not the best way to get a good impression of any town, but we found soda water, some food and Starbucks for some caffeine. I’m not a coffee lover most of the time but we learnt quickly that American coffee is particularly terrible and almost no-one can make an espresso – Simon’s daily necessity. We ended up with some funny combinations, like a shot of espresso and then a cup full of froth, until finally giving up and just asking for extra shots in the Americano coffee and sadly resigning ourselves to waiting until Australia for a ‘real’ coffee again.

It’s amazing how much a good night’s sleep can change one’s outlook. The next morning the sun was shining, the frangipani (aka plumeria) were in full bloom and the ocean looked cool and inviting! This Kona place might actually be ok… if it wasn’t so hot (and lacking good coffee)! But the biggest shock to the system was not jetlag, nor lack of palatable coffee, it was the humidity and the heat. Coming from the cold winter we had had at home to this was instantly draining.

We looked around town, made it back to Safeway for groceries and then decided a light run would be a good way to get back into things after the travel. Easy enough right? … No, not great. Even a slow jog was pretty awful. The air was oppressive, and with the heat my legs had no go. I felt nauseous and pathetic – how was I ever going to race an Ironman in this place?

Fast forward a week and a half and we had acclimatised well. Some riding out on the Queen Ka’Ahumana (Queen K for short) and some more running had us feeling much more confident about the weather. Carrying water on the runs wasn’t easy as there weren’t many places to re-fill but all in all, we knew race day came with supplies out on the course in the form of water, ice and cold sponges to manage the heat.

This was our first time in Hawaii and knowing how hard it is to qualify, and how tough training over winter had been, we were always going to make the absolute most of every opportunity during race week and leading up to the race. This didn’t necessarily make for an ‘ideal’ taper as we definitely expended more energy than necessary but we did it all. Race week was great.

The biggest non-triathlon highlight for me was snorkelling with the manta rays. Just wow! Absolutely amazing, breath-taking, and graceful.  We went on a trip with a small company in an outrigger canoe. They were careful we knew the rules about the mantas and didn’t impede them in any way, and didn’t touch them as this can damage their immune system. It was simply incredible.

One of the biggest ‘race week’ triathlon related highlights for me was an autograph and photo with my triathlon hero, Mirinda Carfrae (Rinny) who graciously sat in the expo after the Parade of Nations and signed so many swim caps and stood up and down for numerous photos from age group groupies like me. She was a true professional and I had my fingers crossed she’d have a great race day too.

The other highlight was the Parade of Nations and having the opportunity to meet Turia Pitt. She is an incredibly strong person and the physio in me is astounded at her achievements and recovery from her burns because I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be that strong. She is truly an inspirational athlete, and a lovely person too!

So, we did the Parade of nations, and then we did the Underpants Run for charity…. And then we went to the expo and I stood in line for my Rinnie photo.

I think, due to all the other activities in race week, (I bought so much stuff, I got some free stuff, we saw and did everything we could!) I wasn’t feeling too nervous. Even on race morning I was surprised at how well I had slept the night before. Once we got down to the pier for arm marking and pre-race preparations the anxiety did kick in. OMG I am racing at Kona!!! Wow! This is GREAT!

Race day was in full swing!

We were shuffled off the pier into the water and out to the swim start after seeing the pro men, pro women, and age group men all start the race in a flurry of arms and legs and splashing. Seven hundred or so age group women jostled for position on the start line and I found myself front and centre despite initially wanting to start out wider. Not great.

And then the canon went off…. Game on ladies!

The swim was violent. There was no space for clear water and it was “kick or be kicked” the whole way around the course. My Garmin watch got ripped off my wrist …. Then it dawned on me what that lovely red thing was that was floating down in front of me…Not great.

Quickly grab watch. Stuff it down my top. Resume swimming. Shortly thereafter, attempt to access oxygen and score a hefty boot to the right goggle eye socket – ouch! Gulp, inhale… oops! Much salty seawater consumed. Not great.

During the swim the women caught up to the slower men in the race and had to negotiate past them as well as deal with the fight for position in our own swim packs. I finished the swim in one hour 5 minutes – not bad for a non-wetsuit swim for me but I was in 21st position meaning that there are a lot of other faster swimmers out there than me in my age group. Not great.

Transition went well and then it was out onto the bike leg. This is where I let the occasion over-awe me somewhat and rather than go out with my usual confidence on the bike, I was cautious and probably a bit too measured. I wasn’t sure what the heat of the day would do for me. And thanks to the unplanned consumption of seawater I was feeling quite nauseous.

Overall, the bike wouldn’t have been too bad except that the Big Island of Hawaii is more than a bit windy. How nature designed a place that can have a headwind in BOTH directions is beyond me, but that’s what it was. I raced out of town and up to Hawi trying to keep some nutrition in but since I felt ill I decided to wait on my UCAN and have that closer to the run and hopefully my stomach would have settled enough by then and it would see me through the marathon. I tried a food bar but that was no good so it was just electrolyte drink for me for the first few hours on the ride. And then like something out of the Exorcist, it hit me… I sat up and (graphic detail warning here!)… threw up. Smack into the aforementioned headwind  – all over myself, my bike and maybe whomever was drafting off me! This happened a few more times over the next hour. Never mind how bad my bike shoes smelt by the time we got home! THANKYOU NAPISAN!!!!! Funny in hindsight, not so great at the time!

There was heaps of drafting (aka tail-gating, which is not technically allowed) and large pelotons riding during the bike leg which was really disappointing but I think the only way Ironman could change that is to go to a rolling or seeded swim start. Following my projectile vomiting episodes, by 150km on the bike I felt much better. Phew!

By now I was feeling quite empty so started, and finished, my whole race worth of Generation UCAN (which is my stomach-friendly fuel) and headed back into transition to start the run. About there I swore I would never race Hawaii again – what an awful ride (may have changed my mind by 24 hours after the race!).

Feeling fuelled and far healthier I headed onto the run course at a comfortable “all-day” pace. I was careful to walk the aid stations and get as much cooling liquid in and on me. Cold sponges stuffed under one’s race cap, and into the tri suit are a blessing when it’s well over 30 degrees and humid in the tropics! Officially it was 38degrees out on the highway during the run course.

The marathon heads along the coast in to town (don’t be fooled, it’s not shaded, nor cool) and then out on to the highway which is less shaded and less cool. The last 5km of the run was brutal, my legs felt like lead and I struggled to keep pace dropping back a bit of time – the bike leg had caught up with me.

Running down Palani Hill and around the block towards the finish line was epic! It was so amazing to have my parents in Hawaii to support me, after only having seen their first Ironman 6 months earlier and completely getting wrapped up in the excitement of it.

I tried to enjoy the last kilometre with the crowd’s support and the amazing finish chute – even with a couple of others in my age group elbowing past me in the last 400m. Never mind… By that stage I was coming well down in the pack so why not try to embrace the moment that I was a finisher in the Hawaii Ironman?!

Boom!

Mike Reilly says “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” (again) and I’m done.

Toast. Completely cooked. Jelly legs, dizzy head, 11 hours and 3 minutes later and I’m done, knowing I gave it everything I had. Dammit I wanted under 11 hours… 3 measly minutes over… are you kidding me?! I finished in 25th out of 85 women in my category, having lost only 4 places between the first transition and finishing, even with the intestinal acrobatics. Hmm…room for improvement… now there will have to be a “next time”!

Overall, the race and the time we had in Hawaii was absolutely incredible. So many sights, experiences and memories I will cherish for the rest of my life, and so much learnt from the race itself. I’m already making “next time” plans but for now, time for relaxing a bit with my feet up, and perhaps a few local short races over the summer – mostly because triathlon is such a fun social sport to be involved in.

I owe an enormous thanks to my coach, Allan Pitman who got me into the best shape of my life for this race and whose training and words of advice that are always in my mind helped me keep my cool even when it was hot and things turned very ugly out there. Much love and thanks to Al’s Cyco’s crew for great support and comradery during our time in Hawaii. We had a blast!

Thanks to Generation UCAN for having me as a product Ambassador – it’s the fuel I need and use for all my long distance racing and training.

And also I have to have a small rave about my newfound obsession with Altra shoes (no sponsorship or deal there but my feet are so happy I have to share the love).

To our friends and family – we couldn’t have made this trip without your generosity and support. Also thanks to the Marion Masters Swimming Club and Craig Jones of Unley swimming club – amazing supporters, training partners and friends!

Finally, to the Meteors Triathlon Club – thanks for backing us, and tracking us all the way! I’m looking forward to a few drinks and sharing our tales of glory in Kona!