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Normally my coach gives me a detailed race plan with pace, heart rate and wattage targets, information on how it should feel in each segment of the race along with instructions on how much to eat and drink. For this race his instructions were simple; don’t go too easy, don’t go too hard, be observant, absorb the race and enjoy your first Kona. 

I slept soundly, getting at least five hours of sleep before the race. Up at 4am, I patiently consumed over 700 calories of bagel, peanut butter and cereal before my brisk mile walk from the condo to the swim start. Having racked my bike and dropped off my transition bags the day before, all I had to do was get body marked and load up my bike with the food and drinks I would need to fuel my ride. It was GREAT seeing my friend and riding buddy Cecile who was volunteering at body marking before I headed to my bike. Once done with my bike I had time to pay a visit to Cecilia and Ray in their room at the King Kam hotel right at the pier where the swim would take place.  In their room I discovered that I had forgotten to put my Garmin computer on my bike. I rushed back down to get the computer on my bike and line up for the swim start. 

2.4 Mile Swim
The pro men started at 6:25 am and the age group women didn’t go off until 7 am so we had some time to mill around and socialize. I had a chance to see and speak with some of my fellow racers, including two of my age group competitors who I met earlier in the week Nicole from the island of Reunion and Rose as well as my friends Sunny and Barbara. I felt more excited than nervous. Suddenly it was time for us to get in the water and swim out to the starting line. Even though swimming is one of my stronger disciplines I knew I wouldn’t be swimming the 2.4 miles anywhere near an hour like a lot of these ladies, so I didn’t move right up to the starting line in the way I would when doing a lesser race. I was near the right hand side of the starting pack pretty close to the pier when I heard my name called and saw Cecile who had a prime seat on the edge of the pier very close to the announcer, the Voice of Ironman Mike Riley. I moved up and more to the right so I could give her a shout out. There was a pretty broad starting line so it seemed like we were only about 3 swimmers deep, so I started very near the front. The volunteers were doing a great job of keeping everyone behind the starting line, a little different when World Championships are at stake. Then it was suddenly 7 am, the cannon sounded and we were off! 
Fortunately this swim wasn’t very chaotic for me. I got behind some feet that were going at a pace that felt comfortable for me and I just swam. I was able to focus on my swimming and staying up with the feet in front of me, although I was conscious of weaving through and dodging other swimmers. I could see kayakers or paddle boarders often when I turned my head to breath, so I knew I was on course and didn’t even really have to raise my head to sight. As I neared the first turn at the Body Glove boat I caught up with the slowest men. The only time I got hit on the swim was when I was passing a grey haired man who whacked me pretty hard in the face dislodging my goggles, but not enough to cause them to leak. It was enough to get me off of the feet I had been following so I just swam on, turned the corner, swam to the next boat, made another right hand turn and was headed back to shore. On this back stretch I felt like I was finding my power as others seemed to be slowing down. The last half of that back stretch was somewhat impeded by having to swim through groups of the slower men. As I worked my way through the swim I thought about being present in the moment and focusing on my swim rather than thinking about what would unfold over the next 13 hours or so. 

Swim to Bike Transition (T1)
The path we all had to travel from swim to bike was pretty long, running the around the edge of the whole length of the pier. My plan was to run through the changing tent to my bike carrying my bike shoes so I could run faster and not risk slipping on the pier. In the changing tent I started to put my bike shoes on before I stripped off the swim skin I had worn over my tri kit for the swim. The volunteer helping me said “don’t you want to take that off before you put on your shoes?” Her question brought my mind back to the moment and I remembered that I wanted to wait to put on my shoes until I got to my bike. Obviously my transition took a little longer than I had planned…five minutes and 58 seconds. I ran to my bike, put on my helmet, sunglasses and shoes, un-racked my bike and ran to the mount line.

112 Miles on the Bike
As I rode away from transition and onto Palani Road I could hear cheers from my friends Cecilia and Ray. It turns out Dennis was also on Palani Road and got a few photos of me, but I didn’t see or hear him. After making the right hand turn onto the Kuakini Hwy it didn’t seem to take much time to climb to the turnaround and make my way back down to Palani. After making a right back onto Palani, there is an incline; I reminded myself to stay within my limits and not throw down the hammer right there because it was going to be a long ride and a long day. I had no idea….

I’ve raced the second half of this course six times as part of the Ironman Hawaii 70.3 race and trained on the rest of the bike course a few times. I felt that I had a pretty good idea of what to expect as far as heat, climbing and winds. However, the unpredictability is part of what makes this course so difficult. Everything was going pretty much as I expected until I reached Waikaloa Beach Drive, about 25 miles from Kona on the Queen K Hwy. BAM!!! Headwinds! This wasn’t supposed to happen here. Over the next 10 miles every time I looked at my Garmin I was going 8 to 10 mph. I was supposed to be going over 18 mph. At this rate I started to wonder if I would make the bike cut off. The thing about Ironman is that whatever it dishes out you just have to keep pushing on. Finally I got some relief when I made the left hand turn onto the fast downhill into Kawaihae. I thought “enjoy this because there will be headwinds after the right hand turn heading up to Hawi.” Unfortunately, as predicted, this was true.

I made my way to the turnaround at Hawi thinking “OK its over halfway done and the second half will be faster. There has to be some tailwind after all those headwinds, right? Just cause it took you four hours to get here doesn’t mean it’s going to take 4 hours to get back. Keep the legs spinning, take advantage of this downhill.” Then I try to get into one harder gear than I have and my chain drops. “Don’t freak out, pull over and calmly put the chain back on.” It didn’t take long and I was back on the bike. My feet had been hurting in the forefoot and a little time off my bike helped over the next 10 miles. My feet were hot and seemed to be swelling making my bike shoes feel incredibly tight. Later on, my feet started to burn again and I began pouring cold water on them as I got fresh cold bottles from the aid stations. This discomfort in my feet was worse than any foot pain I had ever had while cycling. I kept repeating to myself “Just keep pushing on! The sooner you get there, the sooner your feet will get some relief.”

Riding back down from Hawi the cross winds were picking up. I was disappointed to find that the wind that had been in my face between Kawaihae and Waikaloa was gone and I didn’t have the advantage of a tailwind when I rode back through that section. Riding back into Kona I started to see runners going in both directions as I passed the Energy Lab and was anxious to get on to the run.




Bike to Run Transition (T2)
I dismounted my bike, leaving my bike shoes clipped on the pedals, handed it off to a volunteer and ran around the pier to the changing tent. I sat down in the tent and decided that it might help my sore feet if I changed into some dry socks. With my socks off, I could see that my feet were indeed swollen and really white. I spent a few minutes rubbing my feet and trying to get the blood flow going. As there was not much else I could do, I put on my run shoes and headed out. I spent about eight minutes in transition which was almost twice as long as the top five women in my age group.

26.2 Mile Run
I felt stiff for the first four miles although those turned out to be my fastest miles of the day. I felt like I got into a rhythm after five miles. The run heads south on Ali’i Drive for about five miles before turning around and coming back along the same route. There is an abundance of crowd support and fortunately it was starting to get overcast, making it a little cooler than I had expected. I saw my sister, Barb, in front of our condos at about mile one and then again on my way back. There are a few rolling climb sections and when I hit the first one, I saw Dennis taking photos which forced me to run up the first hill. Running up that hill wasn’t too bad and that encouraged me to run the rest of the rollers. I told myself to just keeping running and I would let myself walk up Palani Road at about the 10 mile mark.  Dennis was on a bike and he kept cycling ahead on the other side of the road and stopping to take pictures. He kept me distracted for the next mile or so, after which he turned around and I didn’t see him again until after the finish.

I did allow myself to walk up Palani Road and when people cheered me on I’d smile and say “I’m living the dream” which made them cheer even more. Once making a left back onto the Queen K Hwy I knew this is where the test really begins, saying to myself “time to focus and keep running.” I watched a beautiful large orange ball of a sun sink into the Pacific Ocean and soon the route was pitched into darkness. I was then running from aid station to aid station as islands of light in the darkness, spaced a little over a mile apart. The only thing to see was people running toward me with halos of light in the form of glow stick necklaces attached to their bodies in whichever way felt most tolerable. I wore mine as a crown on my head. 

The biggest aid station was at the turn into the Energy Lab. It looked like a giant party with upbeat music blaring, but I didn’t have the energy to enjoy it or take it all in. Once entering the Energy Lab the course goes downhill for awhile which was nice, although I did run off the road at one point. Fortunately I didn’t fall and hopped right back onto the road. The next challenge was coming back up the hill from the beach in the Energy Lab. I was lucky that the sun was down and for the first time I was happy for a headwind because it kept it cooler while running uphill. The biggest treat was near the exit from the Energy Lab where they had placed a jumbotron and suddenly out of the darkness came a larger than life cheer from my sister; totally cracked me up. She had made the video in the Ironman Village at a booth sponsored by Newton Running and they linked it to my timing chip which triggered the video once I ran over a sensor.

Back onto the Queen K Hwy and only six (or eight) miles to go. The miles were marked, I just couldn’t keep it straight. The only slowing down I did was to get ice in my water bottle at the aid stations. It was still hot enough to keep squeezing water on my head and sipping ice water between aid stations. Another right hand turn and I was back on Palani Road with about a mile and a half to go. From the point where I made a left onto Kuakini I could hear Mike Reilly calling people in at the finish line. Two more right turns and I was back on Ali’i Drive which was packed with spectators cheering their lungs out.

I wanted to savor, enjoy and remember this finish “my first Kona.” The finish chute seemed about three times as long as at other Ironman races with ten times the spectators. I heard Cecelia and Ray calling my name and cheering me on. I high-fived people as I ran down the chute and kept repeating “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD” out loud, I think. I was really doing it: Finishing the Ironman in Kona on Ali’i Drive just as I have watched and wished I could do for many years! The crowd energy was electric and Mike Reilly was calling me an Ironman. I had done it, absorbed it and enjoyed it.

Two volunteers put a towel over my shoulders and a lei on my neck as the tears of joy started to flow. The man asked if I was ok and if I needed to go to the medical tent, the woman responded with “she is just emotional"

I heeded my coach's advice and enjoyed my "first" Kona. Now it's time to get back to work so it won't be my only Kona.








November 23, 2014 — Melissa Corp

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