Countless hours on the trainer. Countless hours on the treadmill. Countless hours in the pool. Many weekend nights spent going to bed early. Social sacrifices. Healthy diet with no candy or ice cream (except for major PRs and the likes).
All worth it when everything came together on Saturday, October 12th on the biggest triathlon stage in the world.
Quick recap on how we got here:
Ryan and I actually met our coach, Bill Bishop, as we were heading into a bar in the city to surprise my brother Nic for his birthday. Bill recognized Ryan, who had actually been in contact with Bill's dad, a Masters Swim coach out of Barrington High School. Ryan and Bill exchanged numbers, talked a little smack, and one month later, we were on the crazy train to the Ironman.
Bill began coaching us in mid-January with one goal in mind: qualify for Kona so celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary in the most appropriate way possible. Throughout the year, both Ryan and I crushed our PRs in almost every distance...while training for an Ironman. Bill's training shocked our bodies in a way they had never been shocked before, and it worked.
Fast forward to the last day of school in 2013. Ryan and I are boarding a plane to head to Maryland to attempt to qualify for the Ironman World Championships via Eagleman 70.3, one of the few remaining Half qualifiers. Ryan and I never really discussed what would happen if one of us did not qualify as we were staying positive and giving it literally everything we had on that day and just hoping and praying for the best.
It came down to the run for both of us, and we both ended up qualifying (see detailed recap of Eagleman 70.3 for craziness of the whole thing!). Little did I know how big of a feat I had actually accomplished. In my mind, it was something I was going to do, and gosh darn it, I would give it my all in trying.
Things really didn't sink in until October came around. Sure, we rode multiple 100milers and ran multiple 20+milers, but all of that training never really made the reality of going to the World Championships sink in.
Until my school got crazy excited for me. My coworkers had been following my progress and I made sure to let them know after Eagleman that I qualified, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect the reaction of actually going to the World Championships.
My principal had me interviewed by a fellow teacher so that the students could learn more about this Ironman stuff. Posters were made and displayed around the school and kids were asking questions left and right. It was pretty neat to see all of the excitement. All of the students signed a "Good Luck" poster that I will treasure forever. And then they had me run the halls... with 5 minutes remaining in the school day, all students in every class came out and lined the halls. My principal put three leis around my neck and I ran through the halls, high-fiving the smiling and cheering 7th and 8th graders (and teachers!) along the way. It was SUCH a cool feeling. I am beyond blessed to work with the incredible people I do and teach the amazing students I do.
Students signed this during lunch. Best kids ever.
Running the halls!
These signs were seriously all over the school!
When we arrived at O'Hare, we were pleasantly surprised with how slow it was and got checked in pretty quickly. BONUS: we bought professional triathlete-made bike cases (by TJ Tollakson, highly highly recommend them) and were only charged $60 each. Normally, United charges $150 per bike, so that's pretty darn good. Don't worry, we spent that extra $90 on souvenirs;).
rustersports.com for these sweet cases!
After 16+ hours of travel (I was selfish and wanted to be with my students as long as possible and there were no real good flights), we arrived in Kona. And WOW, what a sight it was. I have never seen more physically fit human beings in my life. I have never seen a more active town in my life. It was just incredible. People were literally working out at all hours of the day and night.
Ryan and I arrived around 8am and decided to head to the expo to get our stuff. I think it was during that point that I realized the level of competition we were at. You had to check in with your ID (as usual), then you were given your race number and sent to another line to wait to sign a bunch of paperwork. Then (that took probably 15minutes) we were sent to another table to get our wristbands. Then we received our awesome KONA backpacks and finally our chip.
Sweet deal on Rudy Project helmets and sunglasses for Kona qualifiers!
I feel so professional!
Ryan pointing to our names
The ridiculously priced backpack that I bought anyway:)
Saucony KONA shoes and water bottle. Only 100 pairs made!
Oh yeah....you don't get a race shirt unless you finish the race. But, I was pretty pumped with my sweet green and blue backpack.
You're then sent into the IRONMAN store, which I expected. Ryan and I both got gender specific shirts with the Ironman logo on the back, made up of all of the male and female names of competitors. We also bought two coffee mugs to drink our Kona coffee out of. And remember that $90 bucks we each saved from our bikes? Yeah, I quickly spent that on a multi-colored checkered World Championships backpack.
The rest of the week, we explored the venue, went to some fun sponsor party things, trained a bit and met up with people that we knew were in Kona, and picked up our support crew from the airport (my parents, Ryan's dad, Ryan's grandpa, Ryan's brother and sister-in-law). We stayed at a pretty nice house that was right before the run course turnaround on Ali'i Drive, so saw TONS of athletic bodies running and biking past our place throughout all hours.
Did I mention the Undie Dash? That was fun, too, and we even made the slowtwitch.com and ironman.com website pages!
All these people wore some sort of undies and ran for a mile!
We made it onto the slow twitch.com gallery!!!
And the ironman.com website!
Race day finally arrived, but my nerves still never did. While I had some goals, I knew that just finishing an Ironman is a huge accomplishment so was happy with simply finishing. I did set a time goal for myself based on my workouts throughout the year--10:00 to 10:30. While this seems like a pretty big range, for a first timer I think it's pretty normal.
I had never done a full Ironman up to this point, so had nothing but my workouts to base my goals off of. I was hoping to be around a 1:15 on the swim, 5:45 to 6hours on the bike, and sub-3:30 on the run, though I wanted as close to 3:00 as possible. I kept reminding myself EVERYONE here has an Ironman under their belt so place is irrelevant, though I naturally wanted to be as close to my goal as possible!
The way this race works is crazy. The pros get started by a cannon 30minutes before the rest of us age groupers. This was kind of nice as I never really felt rushed. Ryan and I arrived around 5am for the 7am start and had plenty of time to get our race numbers put on us, drop off our special needs bags and get lathered up with sunscreen.
After the pros went off, all 2000 age groupers were released into the water (ocean). We were told to get close to the start line, which was obvious by the volunteers on surf boards. However, this meant we had to tread water for 15+ minutes. Before even starting a 9+ hour race. I definitely did not like that part, though Ryan and others did warn me of it prior to race day.
I had positioned myself in the middle and planned on staying between there and the outside so to avoid getting clobbered by others. Normally, I am pretty darn good at taking the shortest route possible and staying close to the buoys (swimming is not my strength, so I like to do the shortest route possible!!), but I took everyone's advice and tried to stay away from the buoys. Unfortunately, with that many competitive people in the water at the same time, arms and legs are all over the place. At one point, a guy almost pulled me under after hitting me multiple times. I never thought I had more than one gear in the water, but boy did I speed away from him faster than I ever thought I could.
Coming out of the swim.
The swim ended up being long....Ryan, who swam by the buoys, got 2.69miles on his watch and I got 2.70 and we both heard while getting our post-race massages that others had this experience as well (it is supposed to be a 2.4mile swim). All in all, a 1:17 on a long course isn't horrible, and I vowed to make up for it on the bike.
13:18 first ½ mile, 13:16 second ½ mile, 12:46 third ½ mile, 15:30 fourth ½ mile (um that was fun), 16:30 and 6:17 for the last apparently 0.7miles.
40/46 in my 25-29 year old age group
3:33 transition, 0.25mile worth of running around to get my bike and such.
(passed one person during transition!)
After hosing myself down for maybe 3 seconds, I rushed to grab my transition bag while getting lathered up again with sunscreen. When I got to my bike, almost all of the bikes in my area were already gone...not surprising, but definitely motivating.
All these fancy schmancy bikes were gone by the time I exited the water...
I saw my parents, Ryan's dad and grandpa and Jerry and Katie almost instantly and just lit up. I began passing people like crazy, but frequently checked my power to make sure I wouldn't burn out....112 miles is a long way to ride, after all.
Climbing up a mini-hill at the very beginning of the bike.
I could not believe how good I felt throughout the bike and just kept waiting to get tired. My power was on the high end of what both Ryan and Bill thought I could do and my nutrition was spot on. Every aide station, I filled my Profile Design water bottle between my aero bars and rarely got thirsty. I was even passing guys, just adding to my excitement and motivation throughout this 5+ hour journey.
"Profile Design" bottle I am referencing. Just kept refilling that thing!
Bonus: yellow PowerBar bottle served as my "flat" tool kit.
The bike course is an out and back, so I was able to see Ryan...which was awesome. It was probably 7 miles before the turnaround (at mile 60, in Hawi) and it just got me so excited as he looked like he was just crushing it (turns out, he was). Literally one mile before the turnaround, I was passing a guy and heard a loud POP--like a balloon. My only fear (minus the 50+ mile per hour wind gusts knocking me over) was getting a flat. Ryan and I practiced and I have changed flats before, but I did NOT want to waste time with that at the world championships!
Luckily, I asked three different people if my rear tire looked flat and they all agreed that I looked fine (these were all at separate times, probably 5miles apart, as I was clearly paranoid). When Ryan and I rode the stretch back to Kona from Hawi (we rode 15miles of it), the winds were out and I was pretty nervous. The weird thing though is that "competitive Jacqui" is pretty darn fearless....which is great for races. We didn't have as much wind as anticipated, until we were about 30miles out from Kona.
The winds picked up like crazy and I was pedaling as hard as I could into a headwind. It was awful, but I kept reminding myself that EVERYONE was experiencing the same thing so to just stay calm and power through. I was pretty frustrated to see people drafting during this part (and other parts) of the race, but that frustration turned into energy that helped me pass the people who were drafting. This is part of the sport that I will never understand, especially at the Worlds level, but having an honest race is more important (in my opinion) than racing even 5 minutes faster.
Anyway, when I came in from the bike, my volunteer grabbed my bike from me (how cool is that?!) and I ran the probably half mile around the transition area into the area where we changed into our run clothes. I had another awesome volunteer who lathered me up again with sunscreen and brought me water and helped me get my run stuff together. I am pretty sure I beat every girl out of transition that was in there when I went in, which made me feel pretty good...as was evident in the run.
GARMIN RECAP— these are all 5mile splits
17:06 (17.5mph), 12:36 (23.8mph), 13:14 (22.7mph), 12:37 (23.8mph), 12:58 (23.1mph), 12:12 (24.6mph), 12:54 (23.2mph), 15:20 (19.6mph), 14:54 (20.1mph), 13:36 (22.1mph), 14:19 (20.9mph), 17:58 (16.7mph), 11:39 (25.7mph), 16:08 (18.6mph), 14:31 (20.7mph), 15:12 (19.7mph), 14:36 (20.5mph), 16:04 (18.7mph), 19:12 (15.6mph), 18:50 (15.9mph), 17:11 (17.5mph), 14:38 (20.5mph), 6:27 (19.4mph) for last 2miles.
5:34:35 (20.08mph average)
1274/2134 overall (passed 265 people!)
213/565 females (passed 168 ladies!)
29/46 females aged 25-29 (passed 12 girls!)
T2: this is crazy. In transition 2, I passed a TON of people. 2:38 for 0.21 miles of running around to get to my run bag and get lathered up again.
All of the run bags...where you have your "run gear" waiting for you.
I started the run and saw my family/Ryan's family pretty quickly. They made me get pumped up and I ran a great first four miles! I asked how Ryan was doing as I was nervous for him on the run and they told me he was rocking it which made me go even faster. And then I had to stop for the bathroom. I am pretty sure I spent two minutes simply peeing, that's how much water and such I had consumed. I thought stopping would be a great idea, but my next four miles showed otherwise. I slowed down a bit and was getting tempted to stop and stretch to see if that could help me pick up the pace. Luckily, I saw my awesome support crew and they motivated me to push on up the GIANT Palani hill, where many people walked. It is steeper than any hill on the Cary March Madness 1/2 marathon course, so I totally understand the walking part, but I was just so excited to see my family that I wanted to push myself up the hill.
I had been in a routine during each aide station, conveniently located every mile: drink a sip of water and pour the rest on my body, drink a sip of PowerBar Perform and throw the rest, take a sip of Cola and throw the rest (I started doing this at mile 11), take a sip of Perform and throw the rest and finally take a sip of water and pour the rest on myself. There were sponges that I wiped my face with as well, either at the beginning or end of each aide station (and sometimes both!). While this felt good, I didn't realize what it was doing to my feet until it was too late.
Photo credit: Katie Giuliano. This is the "struggle up Palani Hill"
Going up Palani hill, just before mile 11, I could feel some big blisters forming under and between almost every single toe. The water was keeping my feet sopping wet and there was nothing I could do. Looking back, I don't know how my calves and shins aren't sore as I was probably slapping my feet due to that excess water. I told myself that I would stop at mile 18 for my special needs bag with my spare pair of socks....but couldn't make it.
At mile 13, I took my first "break." I walked through the heavily congested aide station as I wanted to make sure to continue getting all of the fluids in me and, now that I was passing so many people, the aide stations were getting backed up at times. I almost wish I hadn't walked through it as it felt so good that I wanted to walk through the mile 14 aide station. I didn't, but promised myself I could for mile 15. And then for 17, 19 and 21.
HOW COOL to high-five people as finishing!!!
I have to say I felt HORRIBLE doing this as I would then repass people I had just passed, so I undoubtedly looked like a big jerk. But, honestly, those seconds I spent walking through gave me the energy and fuel to be able to continue on pace to the finish line. Plus, I probably won’t see these people ever again!
In the grand scheme of things, I probably lost less than 5 minutes due to the stopping and could have potentially lost a lot more without getting those proper fluids. However, those few minutes are ones Ryan might forever tease me for as he got his “comeback” and ended up beating me in the run portion of this race (we had been joking about beating each other during the run portion ever since I ran faster than he did in the ½ marathon at Eagleman, our Kona qualifier, in June).
Remember that blister-causing hill at mile 10? Palani Road? Yeah…we get to go down that hill just before mile 25. And as you’re running down the hill, trying not to fall flat on your face because your quads are hating you at this point, you get to see all of the spectators. And I was lucky enough to see my biggest fan of all: Ryan. Every time I saw my or Ryan’s family, I had asked how he was doing, so to see he was finished and smiling and full of energy for me made me start SPRINTING. I mean, I seriously looked like I was racing a mile at this point. The spectators went CRAZY seeing this and I counted at least 15 people that I passed in that last 1.2 miles alone. It’s amazing what support and encouragement can do in any race.
The home stretch down Ali’i Drive was unreal. The finish chute was even better than how they show it on TV. I was high-fiving people and smiling like crazy. And then I heard the second best words ever said to me in my life, “Jacqui Giuliano! YOU. ARE. AN IRONMAN!!!!!”
The only picture that "blue shirt guy" isn't in with me!
We did it!!!!!!
6:50, 6:59, 6:57, 7:05, 8:04 (bathroom break), 7:07, 7:11, 7:28, 7:21, 7:21, 8:08 (Palani Hill), 7:37, 8:08*, 7:44, 8:38*, 7:51, 8:27*, 7:43, 8:15 (stopped for socks), 8:52*, 8:39, 7:38, 8:10, 7:39, 7:51, 6:59, 1:11 (6:00 pace).
*aide stations I walked through
3:22:07 overall (Garmin even got 26.19miles!)
820/2134 overall (passed 454 people)
89/565 females (passed 124 females)
13/46 females 25-29 years old (passed 16 females)
10:20:04. First Ironman ever.
This experience, purposely planned to be a way to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary, ended the same way a wedding (hopefully) does: it left us wanting to do it over and over again.
So what’s next? Well, Ryan and I knew last year at this time that we just had to qualify for Kona to celebrate our one-year there together….and we are feeling the same this year as well. The training begins again tomorrow in our quest for our next Kona adventure. Thank you SO much for all of your support and encouragement throughout this process. I cannot express how loved I felt reading the comments on facebook, on my phone, and in my inbox after the race. And the support I received when we came back stateside was incredible. I can’t say it enough: I am one incredibly blessed girl. Thank you all for everything this past year and I can’t wait to share the next leg of our journey with you all soon!
How freaking awesome is my district/school? :)