Coach Keena’s Ironman Kona Race Review

“The euphoria of not only being able to participate in such an awesome event, but to also finish and have such a great experience is hard to describe!”


WOW!  What an incredible experience I got to enjoy here at the Ironman World Championships in Kona! I was determined to enjoy my entire time here both pre-race and during the race…and I definitely did just that!

The weeks leading up to this race were really crazy, what with the 2 weeks in Europe and racing in Budapest and feeling like I really wasn’t ready for this Ironman here in Kona. I figured I wasn’t gonna set any PRs for myself and just wanted to make sure I didn’t hate the sport when I was finished here.  So…I tried to take it really easy on the swim and bike and just make sure I didn’t fall apart at any point during the day…and I definitely still LOVE this awesome sport of triathlon! Here is the breakdown for the day.

I actually arrived not just on time, but early for the race.  My husband Cade dropped Spencer Woolston and I off at the race by about 4:45 a.m. (Spencer likes to be early to the races so I figured I’d give that novel idea a try).  It was great!  I had so much fun just hanging out and watching all the other athletes and especially spotting all the pros and checking out what they were doing during their race prep.  Guess what…they do the same things we do!  Double checking gear, stretching, visiting the port a potty (I actually went into a port potty right after Craig Alexander…I know, you’re all jealous that Craig and I shared a loo!)

When it was finally time to begin the swim I made my way to the left front area and just enjoyed the moment.  I had about 5 minutes of treading water before the cannon sent us off.  Now, not to be too cheesy or anything, but there is really only one word that can describe how I felt (and not at this moment, but really for the entire race)… Gratitude.  I actually got a little teary eyed before I began the swim because I was just so grateful to be experiencing this event in my life.  I mean, how many people ever get the opportunity to be doing what I just got to do?  I just figured I was very blessed and fortunate to even be participating and I was so happy to there!

I have described the Ironman swim in several different ways before; washing machine, crazy school of fish, intense.  This swim was the king crazy of all swims for me.  It was like being in a washing machine with rabid piranhas and a hurricane blowing down on you.  It was a really messy swim!  Don’t get me wrong…I still enjoyed it!  But, I definitely got some serious beatings out there….and NO let up during the swim..ever!  Except when I did have a moment of space to myself which then made me nervous so I spotted and realized I was heading out to sea!  Which would explain why no other rabid piranha triathletes were trying to pummel me to the ocean floor (they were all busy swimming in the right direction!) Needless to say, not my fastest Ironman swim. Actually my slowest ever.  But that’s OK, cause I wasn’t here to set any records.  I was here to enjoy!  And, enjoy I was!

Running out of the ocean and into transition, I quickly grabbed my gear and threw on bike shoes, helmet, bike and off onto the ride I went. The first 8 or so miles are in town and it was great fun to have so many people cheering me on as I zipped past them.  I was super comfortable on my Scott bike and want send a big huge THANKS to PowerTri for helping me get the perfect setup on my bike!  Seriously…thanks!!  When you are riding 112 miles, it sure is nice to be comfy (or as comfy as you can be for that long) on your bike!  It was also really fun to know that there was a great group/party going on at PowerTri as everyone was cheering us on!

This course is very sneaky!  There are really NO flats on the entire ride. You are either going up or going down. And, once you are out of town, you are either going up or going down with wind at nearly every point. Once we got out onto the main highway (known as the Queen K) we just followed that main road for about 30 miles until the turn off that takes you to the quaint little Hawaiian town of Hawi (pronounced Havi).  This is where the real biking begins!  Between the hills and the winds, it was quite the ride.  They aren’t lying when they say that Kona is challenging because of winds.  I was on pace for a nice little bike time around mile 50, but that last 10 miles until the turnout definitely slowed me up!  But, I wasn’t worried.  After all, I was just grateful and happy to be doing this.  I was passed by SO many people on this bike ride.  But, I held my heart rate and pace and enjoyed.  At the turn around point in Havi (mile 60) I was able to grab my special needs bag and very happily inhaled my apple fritter and replaced my fuel bottle (mix of CarboPro and EFS).  That apple fritter was heaven!

My fueling during the ride was very basic.  Drink lots of water, take ThermoLytes EVERY hour (which I did religiously), keep dumping water over my head and body at EVERY aid station (which were every 5 miles…NICE!)….and enjoy my mini Snickers bars every 30 minutes with a banana thrown in every hour  or so.  I was so wet that my toes were pruned during the entire bike ride (and run) and are just now drying out!

So, after the turn around at Havi and having battled through the winds climbing into Havi, I was hopeful that the return ride would ease up.  Not to be!  Apparently the winds shifted and I got to battle the winds ALL the way back to town as well!  Head winds for just about the entire 52 mile return!  Never fear…I am just SO happy to be here!  Really.  I didn’t have any major troubles or mental breakdowns (like I did in New Zealand).  I just figured I’d keep pedaling and eventually I’d have to make it back to the Kailua Pier where I could finally get running!  This course was so great!  I just kept thinking of St. George and how very similar they felt to me.  Lava rock everywhere, sands, winds, hills.  I love it!  And…the bonus of a gorgeous ocean view to the side of me was great!

If I had entered this race with a specific goal of finishing at a specific time or place I would have been miserable!  I would have felt so much internal pressure and stress and especially been frustrated with the winds and my lack of tremendous speed.  But, I know how I work and I  know that I don’t respond well to that kind of approach to a race.  So, I am really grateful that I’ve got that part of me figured out, cause with no personal pressure applied to this, I was able to really just relax and came off the bike feeling great.

Here’s the deal on the run.  I NEVER look at an Ironman run as a marathon.  It’s not.  It’s just 26 one mile repeats with awesome support thrown in at every mile break!  I plan on taking advantage of those aid stations and make sure I walk pretty much every one of them to ensure I don’t miss out on any of the fun!  Here’s how the course breaks down.  As you leave transition you immediately run up a hill and begin running south.  You then run down a short hill and start the real run on Ali’i Drive.  This is the road that goes right along the ocean heading out of Kona.  This is also the road that you see everyone running on during the week before the race.  It is really gorgeous with the ocean right next to you and shade trees lining the road.  It is also NOT flat.  So, you get to climb lots of hills and then descend.  So, we pretty much ran 5 miles out on Ali’i Drive and then turned around and ran 5 miles back into town.  At about mile 6 I caught up to a guy that looked like we were holding about the same pace and pretty much forced him to run with me for almost the rest of the run.  I have figured out the approach to the run that I have to take.  It is called “Manic girl talking non-stop and being irritatingly cheerful as she yaps her way through the run!”  So, my victim for this run is named Chris.  He is from Australia/Singapore/Hong Kong and is 41 years old and his back is bugging him.  He has 2 children and one wife.  Nice guy.  I find every topic in the book to talk about and pretty much yip  my way with him all the way to mile 22.  We have walked every aid station (coke, oranges, water, ice, sponges and a little more water pretty much every time).  When we are running we are able to hold about an 8 min. to an 8:30 min pace which isn’t bad.  I’m feeling good.  I’m still taking my ThermoLytes every hour and my Sport Legs every 2 hours…just like on the bike and they are magic!  Thanks Heath for the ThermoLytes…I’m sold!  I remember taking inventory at about mile 8 and asking myself how I felt.  Besides just the regular fatigue, I was feeling quite good.  Not too hot with the ice and water and no cramping whatsoever.  Good stuff!

At mile 10 on the run we turn right off Ali’i Drive and head up Palani which is a very steep one mile climb our of town that then spits you back out on to the Queen K Highway.  Decided to save my legs and walked the steep hill.  Good idea cause the climb out on the Queen K Highway was still a good leg burner and we definitely didn’t walk that.  Plus, my awesome husband Cade was right at the top of that hill and I was able to give him a huge (sweaty, drenched) hug and kiss before I headed out to the real heat.

Once we were on the Queen K we had about 5 miles until we reached the turn off to the Natural Energy Lab.  So, the Natural Energy Lab is just a somewhat industrial area off the highway down by the ocean that is very hot with no shade and has a good hill when you climb back out.  I never knew what it was and figured it was something that Ironman had just put together for a certain stretch of the race.  Nope.  It is an actual area that is a business area that apparently does research on creating natural energy.  Now you know!

I saw Doug Gordon about a mile ahead of me and he was doing great!  We gave each other a big hug and he kept running his way and I mine.  Once out of the lab and back onto the highway I only had about 5 miles to go til the finish.  I was feeling really good, but my new friend Chris was feeling a bit less…chipper.  So, we hung with each other for about another mile and he said he needed to hang back.  I told him thanks for the pleasure of running with him and picked up my pace.  At this point, I knew that if I pushed it I could finish under 11:30 hours and felt that was a decent time for me.  So, I started really trying to push it a bit.  I stopped at the next aid station (mile 23) and walked as I got more fuel and then I just charged on to the finish line.  My legs were feeling a bit like heavy lead at this point, but I just told myself that it was just a short little 5k and I would be done. I’ll never forget watching the sun as it was setting over the ocean at about mile 23 for me.  I told myself to remember that moment, cause even the next day when I watched the sunset, I would always be able to remember that magical moment when I was running the last few beautiful miles and marking that sunset.  It’s moments like this that stick with you and remind you that it was real and you were there!  They are the moments that count.

I hadn’t really hurt at all during this race and figured a little pain might be good at this point.  So, I pushed it.  But, I made sure I was still able to smile and be happy cause that totaly works for me.  I had a total blast running down Ali’i to the finish line!  I saw Sean and  Michelle Warren about 50 yards before the finish line and stopped and gave them a big hug.  It was so great to see them there!  I also saw them during the bike to run transition.  Very cool!

As I was high fiving my way down the finish line I saw Doug Gordon right in front of me!  That was so awesome!  He crossed the line and kissed the ground and as soon as he got up I had crossed and gave him a big ol’ congratulations swat right on the butt!  It was great cause I don’t think people knew that I knew him!  Yep, Doug was the guy with the mohawk!   We had been together all week as he helped me get more familiar with the course and was an all around total stud for helping me out all week!  I was SO super proud of him and excited that he had such a wonderful race!  He deserved it!

The euphoria of not only being able to participate in such an awesome event, but to also finish and have such a great experience is hard to describe!  I think the biggest thing is just how grateful and happy I was to be really living and involved in something so much bigger than me.  It was just about seeing what I can do and to be there with so many other amazing people was even better.

My husband Cade was right there after the finish and was so terrific to be such a great support.  He helped me in so many ways to be able to do this.  I definitely owe him BIG time for being such a total stud (and patient saint!)

I guess the main thing is that we are so lucky to be living such good lives.

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About The Author

Jen has been doing triathlon for several years. She is a former bobsled pilot for America Samoa and has a passion for the outdoors; especially winter mountaineering. At home she is wife to a mountain obsessed husband and mother of three girls, but here at EnduranceReview, she is an author, Managing Editor and token chick.