Lessons from Kona – We all have an Inner Dragon
The Return. KONA 2.0
I have just got back from the immense privilege of racing the IM World Championships in Kona. I qualified by winning my AG at IMUK earlier this year and having raced Kona 4 years ago in 2019, I knew what a beast the course is!
It may not be technically the most difficult, but the ocean swim with swells, brutal winds on the bike and absolute blast furnace heat on the run combine to make it truly worthy of a World Championship.
I went in this time probably as well prepared physically as I have ever been for a race and mentally knew that although I am at the tail-end of my Age Group and so one of the oldest out there amongst my competitors, that I could give a good account of myself. I knew the course, trusted my training and was ready to go.
When race morning came, conditions were great – after a couple of days of big ocean swells, it didn’t seem that bad and as I settled in to the swim and within 500m (I knew that as I was counting bouys… they are every 100m in this race!) I was already starting to pass entire packs of the wave that had started before me (you can tell as each AG wave has a different coloured swim cap).
This continued the entire way around the swim – I passed pack after pack, even some that were 2 and 3 waves ahead and when I glanced at my watch I was 1:14 for a 4k ocean swim!
Then onto the bike. I have a new baby (Belle) – a BEAUTIFUL blue Quintana Roo XPR and boy did she ever fly!
I settled into my target power that I had practised over and over (and over!) in race prep and felt super comfortable, so trended towards the high end of the range. I found myself mowing through the pack (I was 7th of 9 waves to get into the water so lots of gals ahead!) I stayed on my nutrition plan, made sure I was getting lots of water in and life was peachy. Until it wasn’t… around 140k on the bike I started to wobble. The legs just didn’t have it anymore and I could feel my core temperature rising (despite wearing a cooling shirt and dousing myself in water at every aid station). I just knew I couldn’t continue at that rate and needed a regroup so backed the power off.
And it was at that stage that I started to go backwards through the pack – girls started re-passing me. Now in races past, I would have caved – I was still doing OK, just not as well as I was, and would have coasted into T2 because to continue as I was, would have been too painful. However…. I knew that if I could get it back together, I was on for a sub 6 hr ride for the 180km, something I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to accomplish again now I am starting to age. That target was *so* close and within reach, so I regrouped, pedalled easy for a few km to get my core temperature down and instead of continuing with the coast for the last 30k or so, cranked it back to where I was and found myself flying along the Queen K at over 35km/hr and bringing me to the end of the bike in under 6 hours!
Next up… a marathon! I never run an IM marathon by a pre-specified pace. I have learned the hard way that always ends in tears, but rather I ‘feel’ my way in to what I know I can sustain for 42.2km and by doing that have mastered the art of being able to run the entire marathon (albeit slowly!), rather than having a breakdown at some point and having to walk. I immediately knew this one was going to be different and was going to take a fight and every ounce of will power to keep running, even very slowly. Again, in the past I would have broken down and walked (at this point I had 9 hours to complete the run under the race cut-off time of 17 hours!) – but I knew that if I could just keep moving at a slow run, I could finish around 12 hours which was my ‘on a perfect day if everything goes right’ dream goal for this race and I wasn’t about to give up on that!
The Dragon Call
So I dug in. From somewhere I found the fortitude to keep chugging away and in the end did finish in that 12 hours I was dreaming of, with a runtime identical to last time out in Kona 4 years ago! It hurt like hell and this is the first race EVER where I haven’t caved when it started to hurt. I thought pushing through and true mental strength were for other people. I would take the easy way out and dial it back when the hurt started to get too uncomfortable. But not this time.
What was the difference? Honestly I am not sure I can pinpoint it. Personal pride? Nope – have had that before. Physical conditioning? Maybe, but I have been in great shape for other races where I have caved. Trust in my training? Possibly. I had practised race pace over and over and over, so knew what my body could handle. Self belief? That might just be it. Pushing through isn’t just for ‘other people’. I think once I dug in on the bike and accomplished that mini-in-race goal of sub 6 hour bike split, I showed myself that I could do this and that built on itself.
So I would encourage you to reflect internally when you have a difficult situation. There probably is an easy way out, but that will gnaw away at you once you take it and after the fact you will wonder why you didn’t persevere. Find a mini goal that you can achieve in the moment and then take that success to build to the next mini goal, and then the next… until before you know it you have achieved what you didn’t think you could.
Sometimes even Dragons have to dig deep to find self-belief, but we truly do all have it in there somewhere and I think his finish line picture sums it up perfectly.
Physically spent, but emotionally about as high as you can get and a feeling that will stay with me forever. Or at least until next time I race!