Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Ultimate Goal: Finding Aloha & the Ironman World Champoinship

In January I declared my intentions for the year in this post.  It was fun to reflect on the original post and see how far my year has come, but here is the important part.  This is where my #findingaloha came to be...

This year my focus will be on creating an environment of authenticity.  I want to be intentional in my relationships and the way I choose to spend my time.  Remove the drama.  Remove the excess baggage.  I have often thought back to the Ultraman Canada awards banquet when the Hawaiian words Ohana (family), Kokua (help), and Aloha (love) were used to describe the Ultraman experience.  This is what I hope to build into my life in 2016.  Surround myself with family, both blood and chosen, in relationships through which we can love, support, nurture one another.  Strive to be true to my passions rather than feeling obligated to continue down the path that I've been following because it's convenient. 

In 2016 I am going to cultivate the spirit of Aloha to:

- get my finances in order and create a sustainable vision for the future
- be intentional in my training, getting the most out of myself every session, every day
- make myself and my health a priority, starting with my nutrition (or lack thereof)
- learn to say no to things that don't enrich my life or make me happy
- begin to pursue my true passions both in my career and personal life

When I run down Ali'i drive in October, I want to feel true happiness, the kind that only comes from devotion, sacrifice, and dedicated pursuit of my full potential.  I want the warmth of the sun to embrace me in my journey, the pavement to radiate encouragement, the wind to blow away my fears and doubts, and my Ohana to celebrate with me at the finish line. 


First off, *goosebumps* to read my dream for my race in Kona, and then to have experienced how near to reality that was on the day.  And second, I am so glad that I chose #findingaloha as my pursuit in 2016 because it made all the difference in Hawaii.

All week long in Kailua-Kona, I looked for beauty and comfort in the harshness of the environment.  The Island of Hawaii is different from the other islands-- and my best friend and I remarked that it is a lot like the desert we live in-- beautiful for sure, but it is the sort of stark environment that one really needs to appreciate in order to see the beauty.  It's easy to post a photo of a palm tree at sunset.  But good luck finding that postcard perfect palm tree.  It's easier to find a photo outlined by the darkness of lava rock and desert landscaped mountains.  The landscape is hot, and windy, and lonely.
Two things in my week prior to race day stood out to me that enabled me to appreciate the beauty that is the Island of Hawaii.

On Saturday (1 week before), Coach Alyssa biked with me from the Mauna Lani (near Waikoloa) to Hawi and back.  It is the only part of the course I had not previously ridden and it is the site of the notorious crosswinds.  It was important for me to see this prior to race day.

Alyssa knows of my fear of winds.  She rode behind me all the way up to Hawi, which was not terrible but the winds were definitely strong and gusty.  At the top we refilled water at a grocery store and then she gave me a few tips.  She told me to stay low.  And that she would sit behind me unless she thought I was being "too much of a pussy" and then she'd go around me and that would be my cue to follow her lead.

We started down and for about 1 mile I was like, cool, we're descending.  And then the crosswinds started blasting us and for the next 10 miles I whimpered and cried like a baby.  I was terrified.  I was being blown all over the place.  It was everything you hear about the winds x 10.  No amount of training could have ever prepared me for that.

After the first 10 of the 20 mile descent, it got marginally better and I was able to get into my aero bars some.  Tears dried up.  I didn't die.  When we made the left hand turn to head through Kawaiihae Alyssa pulled up beside me and gave me some race-day tips.  She said this climb back to the Queen K is nicknamed the death zone because it's often very hot, with no breeze, and it's uphill.  She warned me not to feel shocked if I didn't feel great in this section on race day.

So, hold that thought and in a few more minutes you'll see how this has anything to do with #findingaloha.

Second thing was, I really wanted... needed... to run the energy lab.  I ran the Kona Marathon in 2005, which is the same course only you start/ finish at the Ironman turn around on Ali'i so it's a single out and back.  I am familiar with the course.  But, when I ran the marathon, I was a runner.  I had barely heard of Ironman, let alone Kona.  There was never any superstition or aura surrounding the Energy Lab the way there is in Ironman.  I thought maybe I had blocked out of my head what it was like, or maybe since the marathon is run in the morning it's not super hot then, or whatever.  Anyway, I *needed* to see it for myself, and I *needed* to see it at sunrise.  I don't know why.  It was just important to me.

Race week flew by and I never had a chance to get out there to run as most everything was run straight from my hotel door.  On Friday morning (1 day prior to race day) I had a 20 min jog, and a 45 minute bike ride.  I convinced my #bff to pick me up early and drive me out the the Energy Lab to see the sunrise.  It was just starting to rain when she pulled over on the Queen K to let me out of the car.

Mauna Kea at sunrise.

It was dark when I started down the hill toward the Pacific Ocean.  Cool rain touched my skin and it was absolutely silent minus the sound of my own breathing and foot steps.  About a mile down the hill, the road makes a 90 degree right turn, to parallel the ocean.  Straight in front of you is a small beach with a picnic table.

Energy Lab

I sat down at the table and just looked at the sea.  The sun was just beginning to light the sky behind the mountains.  The rain steadily fell.  As I looked out over the water, I talked to God or Madame Pele or Mauna Kea... whoever was listening.  I promised to give all of myself-- my passion, my joy, my talent, my hard work-- in exchange for safe passage.  I was overwhelmed with calmness and a sense of peace.  I got up and ran back up the hill to where my #bff was waiting.  I was ready.


10.  Crying makes nausea disappear... almost instantly!
The calmness in my heart lasted until race morning.  I slept well and when I woke up I got ready and managed to get a little bit of breakfast down before I started to feel nervous.  I always have butterflies on race morning.  Today was worse than usual and my heart was racing and I wanted to throw up.  This was the closest I've ever been to not keeping my pre race fuel down.

We left the condo around 430 am to walk the half mile to the start line.  As soon as we rounded the bend in Ali'i drive and the finish line came into view I burst into tears.  Everything that I wanted and dreamed about for so long was right there in front of me.  The only thing standing in my way was 140.6 miles.  I had done it 20 times before, but you never know what will happen on race day and I didn't want a mechanical or dehydration or ANYTHING to get in my way of getting to the finish line.

Finish line on race morning.

But you know what?  The minute I started crying my nausea disappeared.  Whatever hormones are released in the body when you have that emotional release must override the hormones that contribute to nausea.  So rather than fight my emotions, I just went with whatever I was feeling.  I cried all the way through body marking, and through transition to check my bike and gear bags.  I cried listening to my ipod while hanging out waiting for my wave to be called.  I cried when my friends from Smashfest Queen came by to wish me luck.  I cried when my friend Chris hugged me just before I went into the water.  I cried until my feet hit the water and I swam out to my place on the start line.... and then I looked out over the crowd gathered around the pier, the thousands of spectators and family members and volunteers... and the beat from the Hawaiian drums filled the air... and peace once again settled in my heart.  This was it.  This was everything.

9.  Swimming with strong women is AMAZING!!
The cannon blasted and a wall of pink caps blazed a trail through the water.  Every time I breathed all I could see surrounding me was pink caps.  We were on a unified mission.

Normally I don't get to swim with women.  Most Ironman events have a single start-- so men/ women all start together.  Being a stronger swimmer, I line up in the front and am usually surrounded by men, which is fine- but you have a higher likelihood of having the crap beat out of you with some 90 lb arm.  This was the first time that I got to swim with a pack of strong women and it was the coolest thing ever.  I was laughing and smiling as much as I could while trying to keep salt water out of my mouth!

I lined up far left, because I still don't like contact and I wanted at least a little bit of open water next to me.  And I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the kayakers didn't force us into as narrow of a lane as I had envisioned.  We had plenty of room.  We did start catching the men after only a few hundred yards, but it wasn't too bad until we made the turn to come back to the pier.  Then it was dodging swimmers every stroke.

Swim exit!
When I got out of the water to run up the steps and glanced at my watch I laughed out loud because I had destroyed my predicted swim time.

Happy happy 1:00:58 swim!!

8.  Sauna training works.
About 6 months ago I asked Coach Hillary about how we were going to prepare for the heat and humidity.  I perform notoriously poorly in these conditions as evidenced by my three attempts at Ironman Texas.  I suggested Bikram yoga.  Hillary thought better and sent me a 28 day steam sauna training plan with a link to some information on the Badwater website.

For anyone not familiar, Badwater is a 135 mile run through Death Valley.  It is very very hot.  Often dry and windy, but there are some points that could be more humid.  The author of the plan explained the rationale, the method, and the benefits.

I was told there was no way I could do it.  I wouldn't be able to last more than 5 minutes in the steam room.  They said I couldn't do it.  I started on September 1 so that I would finish 2 days before I left for Hawaii.  I began with 15 minutes and worked my way up to 45 minutes.  Every. Single. Day I sat in the steam room.  It was like adding another workout to my already crammed schedule.

On day 1 I thought I was going to die after 7 minutes.   On day 2, it was a little bit better.  On day 3 I figured out a way to pass the time quicker by putting my ipod in a ziplock bag with an ice pack.  Some days were easy.  Other days I begged for mercy.

When you hit the button for steam it runs for about 10 minutes.  In case you didn't know this... every single person who enters the steam room pushes the button-- whether it needs to run or not.  Literally I watched some people push the button, walk into the room, turn around and walk right back out.  Because it really is that bad in there.  

I figured out the best timing for steam (50/50 is perfect) and sometimes I literally begged people not to push the button.  One day in the first week I had to leave the room half way through to grab more towels to cover my body.  With the steam running constantly after 15 minutes you start to get steam burns.  After that day I made sure I always had enough towels with me when I went into the sauna.

I figured out the best set up for surviving.  Two towels on the bench, one towel as a pillow, ipod in ziplock near head, sprinkle a couple drops of doTerra Breathe Essential Oil Blend onto another towel to drape over my face, 1 liter bottle of ice water and 1 liter bottle of electrolyte drink, 2 more towels to cover body to protect skin, stopwatch running.  The room was small, and gross, and I was sure I was going to get ringworm, or MRSA, or some other nasty funk from sitting in there so often.

I got stronger.  And as the time built, and I survived 45 minute session after 45 minute session, I got tougher.  Only one time in 28 days did I leave the sweat box early (by 5 minutes) because I was seeing spots and thought I was going to pass out.  I had visions of the CSI episode where they find the girl melted in the sauna after she died in there.  I didn't want my body mopped up from the steam room.

When it was done, I thought, well, this is either going to have been the biggest waste of time... or it's going to work.  It fucking worked.  I never once felt hot the entire time I was in Hawaii, including race day.  I thought oh, we're having a particularly cool year.  Until I talked to people post race who had completely melted down in the temps and my family told me the high for the day.  I was like, BOOM, all the time in the steam room paid off.  It fucking worked.

7.  The bike ride is really fucking hard.  And really fucking amazing.
The bike course in Hawaii is deceivingly difficult.  On paper, you think it's not so bad.  But you add in the winds- headwinds, crosswinds, more headwinds- and you've got a challenge on your hands.  There is over 5000 ft of climbing, rolling hills- reminiscent of IM Texas- which again is no big deal, but you ARE working.

For the first 60 miles I focused on staying within my watts.  The aid stations were about every 5-7 miles so it was perfect for taking in nutrition.  I would take a big swallow of calories as I was entering the aid station, grab a bottle of water to chase it and then hose myself down with the cold water.  Over and over and over this was my rhythm.  The miles ticked by and before I knew it I was climbing up to Hawi.

Fav bike pic of the day!  #lovemybike  Bike time: 5:56:07

As I climbed, I watched the athletes descending on the other side of the road.  Every single person was in their aero bars and I didn't see anyone being blown across the road.  For the first time all day I let myself hope that there wouldn't be a wind on the way down.

I turned around in Hawi, grabbed my special foods bag to replenish my nutrition bottles, and started down the hill.  I talked to myself... out loud... You're fine.  You can do this.  Trust the athletes in front of you.  You're fine.  Over and over and over to keep myself relaxed and in aero.  We did not have the crosswinds that I anticipated.  It was a smooth ride back to the bottom and I could not have been more relieved.

Just a long ride by the ocean... no big deal!  #findingaloha

I turned left into the "death zone" that Alyssa had warned me of.  It was warm and there was no breeze to speak of, but it was also quiet and the view of the ocean was so beautiful I almost cried, and I was overwhelmed with the same sense of calm that I experienced in the Energy Lab the day before.  THIS was #findingaloha.  There was joy here.  And beauty.  And I was racing from the heart, fulfilling my passion.

As I turned back onto the Queen K, the Smashfest Queen support crew was there and I shouted out THIS IS AMAZING!!  I was so incredibly grateful to be racing and to be enjoying every single minute.

Smiling as I was about to be back on the Queen K.

The final 35 miles of the bike ride were hard.  I felt like I was pedaling uphill into a head wind, but I also knew that the hardest part was behind me and I was 2 short hours from being home free.  No chance of not finishing if I got off the bike safely.  This was happening.

6.  Having your Ohana there to support your dream is the best ever.
When I got off the bike I was a little bit dazed.  I had a sharp pain in one of my toes which made hobbling through transition a little bit awkward.  I got in and out as quickly as I could and as soon as I took the first step in my running shoes I forgot all about the toe.

I knew my family was going to be waiting somewhere in the first couple of miles.  The crowds were thick and loud and I kept scanning faces.  As I ran down Ali'i, a teammate popped out and ran next to me for a second while trying to capture video.  I was all smiles and laughing and we managed to capture it on camera!
Teammie!!  #supportcrew

A few moments later my husband was there and I stopped to give him a quick kiss.  A little further down the road my #bff was there and I ran straight into her arms for a sweaty hug.  She screamed how much she loved me and I think we were both crying a few tears of joy.  And my family was there with their Team #FindingKona T's and big lime green posters!  This was the best day ever!!

Support crew!!  Only one camper not happy here.  :)
5.  Having a one-of-a-kind kit is the best feeling ever, and makes for some awesome photos!!
Several years ago, Michele (co-owner of Smashfest Queen) promised that when I qualified for Kona she would make me a lime green kit (because #limegreenismysignaturecolor!).  After I qualified at Arizona, I used every opportunity to remind her.  About a month ago, I received a package in the mail with MY kit.

MY kit!!

My kit (as you've seen) is beautiful.  The pattern reminded me of a palm tree which I thought was so inspired for this course.  Palm branches, in pre-Christian times, were a sign of victory.  And palm trees, with deep roots, are meant to bend with the wind but never break.  I hung the kit in my trainer room and imagined strengthening my roots with every workout so that like the palm tree, I would not break.  I couldn't wait to show the world my kit and race in it for the first time.


The Saturday one week before race day, Michele picked me up to do a photo shoot with my new kit.  She had a couple other surprises for me...  A Finding Aloha trucker hat which I absolutely LOVE... and the new Smashfest Queen Kona kit was named after me!!  The Finding Kona kit was up for sale race week and will be available on the website!

4.  The run course!!
When I left transition, my legs settled into a pace right around a 10 minute mile.  This wasn't what I wanted or what I am capable of... but honestly, I didn't even care.  I knew I could hold that pace, and if I did I was going to achieve every big and small goal I had for the day.  I know part of me was afraid to push outside of that comfort zone because I was still waiting for the heat to get to me.  I was certain that at some point it would all catch up and I would melt.

At every aid station, I dumped ice down my shorts (thank you Chrissie Wellington!) and into my hat.  I drank, ate, and poured water over my kit.  Somewhere around mile 7, a rep from one of the race partners was handing out towels on the sidelines.  I can't remember the brand name (sorry!) but it's one of those towels that stays cool as long as it's wet.  She draped it over my shoulders.  My family said when they saw me again around mile 9 they thought I was overheating since I had a towel and no one else did.  She was offering them to everyone but maybe people just weren't taking them?

I kept the towel until mile 18.  I never felt hot but I kept thinking, everyone says the Energy Lab is hot so I might need it then.  When I turned around at the bottom of the Energy Lab and it wasn't hot, and there was a nice breeze I tossed it.

Running back down Ali'i around mile 9.
With 2 out n back legs, you see everyone out on the race course, and there is so much crowd support!!  I saw all my Team HPB teammates, SFQ teammates, TriScottsdale teammates multiple times.  We all cheered each other on, and got support from each other's support crew on the sidelines.  It was so fun to high five my friend Scott -- we have raced almost every Ironman together so it was fitting that we race Kona for the first time together.  Seeing my friend Cris having as much fun out there as I was -- so amazing, and she even stopped to hug me in the Energy Lab.  And the last few miles I ran in with a girl I shared the podium with at Oceanside and CDA 70.3 earlier this year.  She KQ'd in her first IM race in CDA and had an awesome day in the lava fields.

Run time:  4:26:11

3.  Bad patches are only bad patches if you think they are.
Somewhere around mile 8 or so my stomach started feeling a little sloshy, like I wasn't absorbing.  I kept eating and drinking and waiting to see the BASE salt booth.  At the top of Palani, Matt was there with his team.  I looked at him and it was like he read my mind-- he ran to grab me a bottle of BASE Hydro/ Aminos/ Salt.  In CDA I was struggling with hydration/ energy on the run and he mixed me up this concoction that literally saved me, brought me back from the dead.  My energy levels were fine, but I figured his magic potion could fix me once again by clearing up my stomach.

I drank the bottle between mile 10-12, and as the mile 14 aid station approached I slowed to a walk and gingerly tip-toed my way to the porta-potty where I had blow out diarrhea and immediate relief.  BASE to the rescue once again!  My stomach was cleared out, I felt fantastic and I kept on my merry way.

When I talked to Hillary post race she said she kept waiting for me to go through a bad patch but it seemed I never did.  I was like, well, I did have to hit the porta potty but it really wasn't a big deal.  And I felt fantastic afterwards.  I honestly was so happy to be there, and to be racing I didn't even care that my stomach felt less than perfect for 4 miles.  I was still running, right?

2.  This is the World Championships.
Guess what?  In Kona, people don't walk the marathon.  Crazy, right?  I can get off the bike at IMAZ, literally mile 1, people will be walking.  I don't get it.  I can count on one hand the number of people I saw walking on the marathon course in Hawaii.  I was running a slow 10 minute pace and people were passing me the entire time.  I did pass a couple of people too, but it was so amazing racing with the best of the best.  This is THE World Championships!!!!

Oh, and Peter Reid handed me water at an aid station in the Energy Lab!!  I asked for chicken broth, and he was like, no I have water.  I was like, OMG ARE YOU PETER REID?  And he was like, Yes, keep running.  HA!  I was a huge fan back in the day.  So incredible to have a former world champion handing me water in my world championship race!!  Totally made my day.

Me, the #bff and PETER REID!!

1.  It really is a big deal.
Guys... the finish line...

But before I get there, I forgot one more #FindingAloha moment.  As I was coming out of the Energy Lab the sun was just beginning to set.  I had 6 miles left to get there.  And I could not stop smiling.  I was laughing and announced 5 miles and a victory lap! to anyone who was listening.  I was so incredibly happy and having fun and loving this crazy Ironman thing.  I kept looking for my friend Scott because I knew he'd be getting to the Energy Lab soon.  He was going to see the sunset there and it was incredible.  I got goosebumps thinking of our journeys to get here.  For a second I thought, wait, isn't this the first sign of heat stroke?

But no, it wasn't heat stroke, it was Aloha.  It was racing with passion.  And fulfilling a dream.  And being so close to the finish line that I could taste it.  And being surrounded by the love and support of everyone I love.  It was countless hours in the pool and 4 am wake up calls.  It was lonely miles on the bike and mountains worth of climbing.  It was trails and track workouts, and tired legs, and heartache, and feeling like you might never get there and then one day you do and suddenly everything, all the sacrifices, and the work, all of the early bedtimes and skipped parties, it all makes sense because this is the one thing that has kept you going for the last 4 years and then it's there.  In front of you.  And there is nothing left but to raise your hands.

Finding Aloha in 11:33:22


marian said...

this is so cool to read! congratulations!

Tracy said...

Mary, I loved this. I was so excited to follow your progress and thoughts from qualifying to actually doing Kona. I cried when you spoke of crying seeing the finish line. I could feel it. The sense that you have wanted to be there and how hard you worked to get there. It has been great reading about your journey.

My goal is eventually to get to Kona. I was in a bad Car accident over 2 yrs ago that caused a lot of problems with my neck and back. & then another set of injuries. I seem to be getting back. My big goal to start the road back to being an ironman /Ultra runner is facing my fear of more setbacks. zOne day at a time for now.

Thanks for sharing your journey!

Cassie said...

I loved your recap❤❤❤ and love the story behind your kit (its beautiful) congratulations!!