Thursday, October 16, 2014

Kona Round Two: Respect the distance.

I have heard people say that phrase, “Respect the distance,” when talking about Ironmans for the past year or so that I’ve been participating in them. I always thought I knew what they meant, but boy did I have a lot to learn.

My training for Kona began at the end of June when my goals of running an Olympic Trials Qualifier (sub-2:43 marathon) were cut short. The transition from Coach Dave to Coach Jen was seamless and I was back to biking and swimming one week after my mishap. The whole next month was tough mentally and physically as I had to work my body back to where I had ended after IM Cabo in terms of fitness on the bike and swim.

Training was GREAT throughout the summer, and I even had some darn good races. Once school started, training was still great and workouts were mostly going well, but my stress levels continued to creep up as the weeks passed. Between having 30 more students this year versus last year, teaching a more diverse group of students this year (move-ins, special needs, language barriers), and now teaching right away in the morning versus having my prep period first thing in the morning…I was frantically treading water by the first week of September.

Yeah, grad school probably added a little stress to the pile. Sure, being active in my role as Run Coordinator at Life Time (organizing group runs, writing group and individual training plans, sending out weekly emails, etc.) probably played a role in my stress accumulation as well. But really, the focus on differentiating my curriculum well enough to try and meet the needs of my students this year had me more stressed than any year of teaching I can remember. This is year two of Common Core implementation for all of you who understand that lingo, and while I thought this would be a positive, I have been feeling like I have had to modify so many more of the lessons I created specifically FOR Common Core last year. Staying after school and coming in before school (both of which I choose to do, not required) cut into workout (and sleep!) time, and while my workouts didn’t necessarily suffer during that time, my body would feel the ramifications soon enough.

The week that we left for Kona produced many late nights after last minute adjustments, that brought me to tears, had to be made for my sub plans. I honestly am shocked that I did not get sick from lack of sleep + long travel days leading into the race. In any case, I told myself that when we arrived on the island I needed to let school stuff go (please note, I used personal days and days of no pay, and spent countless hours creating sub plans, so I was not totally ignoring my role as a teacher…and I actually “cheated” here and was responding to student and parent and teacher emails during my trip).

Reflecting on the week, Ryan also noticed that I just was not as “into it” as I was last year. Not to say I wasn’t excited, because who doesn’t get excited to be competing in the WORLD Championships?! But, my mind was just not 100% focused on the race. We even saw one of our pro friends and she questioned my lack of excitement as well. I wish I could come up with a reason but I honestly have no idea why I couldn’t muster up the same feelings as last year.

Kona time:
We left the Tuesday before the race after school, flew to LAX, spent the night there (well, 5ish hours worth in a hotel bed), boarded a plane and landed in Kona around 11am local time. Our bikes made it safely (and we were only charged the baggage fee—thanks, TJ!), and we hopped a cab to our condo.
 Being this close might be dangerous.

I found this AMAZING condo that is literally blocks away from the start/finish and expo. For those who have been to Kona, it is right where Lava Java is—talk about jackpot. We unloaded all of our stuff and decided to go check-in. After checking in, we went to the outdoor expo area where we got the free swag (we paid for stuff later as well) and Ryan checked in with the PowerBar group. He was scheduled to do a talk for work around 4pm, which worked out well since I had grad school deadlines to meet anyway. After his talk, we went for a shakeout run, which was probably more miserable than running the day after the Ironman. We both felt so awful, and just kept reminding ourselves that things would be better after some sleep and time schedule adjustment. To end the night, we picked up our awesome Saucony shoes (Kona Kinvaras!) and backpacks. We have no idea how we fit SO much more into our initial day in Kona last year but decided we will plan better for next year (tail end of this post).

 The Giulianos!
Kona Kinvaras!
 Kona backpack!

Thursday was spent
Participating in the UnderPants Run,
swimming up to the coffee boat (!!)
grabbing breakfast at Lava Java
putting our bikes together and testing them out (someone help me if I look this bad on race day!),
getting in a much better run,
and ending with dinner at Humpy’s.

Friday (day before the race) included
Swimming up to the coffee boat, where the guy accidentally spilled Ryan’s coffee on me so gave me a free pair of goggles,
Trying some Hawaiian fruits,
Riding my bike without dropping my chain or falling off this time,
Running and finding a beautiful pool (you know, for when the ocean gets boring),
Acai bowls and Lava Java round 2,
Laying out then checking in our race stuff,
please note my PINK bike vs the standard red P5 next to mine :)
Getting our sweet Cervelo t-shirts (happens at bike check in—the company whose bike you ride generally has a sweet Kona shirt for you as a thank you),
And enjoying my pre-race burger and beer ritual

Onto the race itself…what a day.

Ryan and I woke up around 4:30 (Ryan earlier to down some coffee). I ate my banana and Peanut Butter and Jelly PowerBar, took our pre-race selfie,
and headed out to drop off our special needs bags. After dropping them off, we got body marked and then headed in to get our bikes totally ready. After pumping up tires, putting fluids and nutrition on the bikes, and going to the bathroom, we dropped our pre-race stuff off and headed to the swim start.

Pre-Swim nutrition: banana and PBJ PowerBar at the house (2 hours prior), ½ PBJ PowerBar while loading the bike (45min prior).

This year, the men’s and women’s swim starts would be at different times. This is a HUGE deal for slower swimmers like me because it means that the good female swimmers are less likely to be able to latch on and draft with the guys on the bike. While drafting is not allowed, it blows my mind that you still see it at the World freaking Championships. Even being a weaker biker, someone who could definitely use the advantage of drafting, I have never even considered drafting for a second and am always watching myself to make sure I don’t get close to it.

Ryan and the other male amateurs took off at 6:50am. The ladies had a 7am start like last year, and I even made a friend (a fellow Chicagoan) while waiting to head in to tread water.

When the cannon finally went off, I actually had a pretty awesome first mile. I was doing a great job of leading a straight line to the buoys (on the inside) and found myself not in a crowd full of pushing and kicking like last year. This year, however, there were lifeguards on boards who would try to push us out even further than the buoy line, which was kind of annoying. In any case, the swim was great until the turnaround. Just prior to the turnaround, I started passing guys (the men have blue swim caps, ladies have pink). While this was awesome and shocking, it was also frustrating because now there were starting to be more people to work around. I heard from many people that this swim was slower than last year and there were more “swells,” so even though I’m not happy with my time, it was good to hear that others had slow days too. My second half of the swim was significantly slower, and my overall time was 4 minutes slower than last year.

I know, quite the looker right here...

Swim stats:
Swim – 1:20:59
13:10, 13:58, 13:46, 17:25, 16:05, 6:57 (0.24)
51st Female 25-29, 371st Female (out of 675), 1500th (out of 2,000+)
*almost 4 minutes slower than last year, choppier water than last year

Transition 1:
3:32. Rinsed off, found my bag right away, stopped in the bathroom, rushed to find a surprising group of bikes still left!

Before the race, to give you an idea of how transition looked to those fast swimmers. For me, barely any bikes were left by the time I entered transition :)

Bike recap:
This. This is 100% where I “lost” my race. While I know I am still nowhere near the top girls in my age group in terms of bike times, what I rode on race day and what I am capable of riding are two totally different things. I started the ride immediately feeling tired. My quads were burning and my hips were tight. I didn’t want to let any negative thoughts creep in, but made the mistake of looking at my bike Garmin. For whatever reason, my legs would not push the watts I knew I was capable of. I still was somehow passing people though, and made it my job to focus on that positive angle.

The beginning of a rough bike.
 Lookin' fresh
 Even smiling!!

This was working well until we encountered the massive winds. I am not a very good cyclist or bike handler, so I couldn’t help but feel bad for the people I would pass. Imagine being passed by someone just to see them wobble all over the place because of the winds…yeah, so as bad of a day as I was having, the people who I passed were clearly doing much worse (seriously, imagine this in your head… I still get a kick out of it every time). I heard from a lot of people, pros included, that this year was the toughest many could remember in terms of wind. Heck, the guy who gave me my post-race massage gave Crowie his post-race massage and Crowie even said in all of his Kona’s that this one was the toughest bike yet. (“Crowie” is professional Craig Alexander, who has done Kona a million times)

 At least I got a few cool pics out of it...

Let's not talk about that person behind me. 

I probably reached my darkest point when I looked down to see I was only at 45 miles (of the 112 total). I had only really been focused on watts and nutrition up until this point, but when I saw I was only at mile 45, I almost started crying. Here I was, using as much energy as I could to try to bike hard (and more importantly stay upright!) and I couldn’t come close to hitting my watts, plus I was nowhere near halfway done. I won’t tell you the things I was thinking, but let me just sum it up by saying I have never been in such a dark, lonely place in my life.

Last winter, a friend had told me that they thought I was doing too much. Most people tell me that so I really wasn’t fazed by it…until this person experienced their own mental breakdown and told me that this was an effect of doing too much and being so stressed. This person warned me that if I did not slow down or take some things off of my plate, I would likely face a mental breakdown of my own sometime soon. I wish I could say that I had listened, since I did acknowledge the fact that I was doing too much, but I didn’t. I figured after Cabo, since I was focusing on “just running,” things would die down a bit and I’d be less stressed. This was mostly true since it was almost summer time and summer school wasn’t nearly as time-consuming as real school. But, I never took anything off of my plate and with all of the things I had mentioned being different this school year than last, my stress levels had no shot at coming back down.

Looking back at my race, this was 100% my mental breakdown. I thought things that no one should ever think. I KNOW most people have negative thoughts and get frustrated during the bike part in Kona, or really in any Ironman, but I can’t express how negative my thoughts were and where they “took” me. I think my only saving grace is that one girl and I kept passing each other. Turns out I am not very good at climbing hills, but she’s not very good at riding down hills (don’t ask, I don’t understand why not either), so we’d see each other every so often.

At the turnaround once we reached Hawi, she stopped to go to the bathroom. I decided that I would do the same for two reasons: (1) I had to pee and (2) I told myself I was going to come out of that bathroom a different person. After my 3ish minute break, I was back on the bike, more determined than ever and ready to start catching people. I told myself no one, guys included, was going to pass me without me putting up a fight, and held true to that. I started ignoring my watts and riding on feel since it was still windy. To illustrate how windy it was, after we made the turnaround we finally had a tailwind….I rode that 5 mile bike split in less than 10 minutes, meaning I was averaging 30+ miles per hour. Yeah, we also rode into those when climbing to Hawi, so don’t think it was ALL fun and games.

MUCH better thoughts here...

Bottom line, I did a much better job on my bike back in to Kona, but still couldn’t push the watts I had been training for and my cadence was still low. Coach Jen and I know these are two things we really have to work on if I want to be competitive at this Ironman stuff.

Bike nutrition: I had put 14 Vanilla PowerGels plus two scoops of PowerBar Perform (drink) plus salt in my water bottle. I also used my water bottle in my aero bars and made it a goal to refill it every aide station (every 7-8 miles). Unfortunately, I probably only finished ¾ of it every time, but was forcing myself to drink as much as I could. I did grab some on-course PowerBar Perform a few times and had some swigs of that as well. The best part of my nutrition was eating my PowerBar Gel Blasts (one package) and PowerBar PBJ bar (torn up into tiny pieces, 1.5 bars total).

Bike stats (please skip this part!):
6:04:48 (18.4 mph)
34th in my age group (15 girls passed), 219th female (152 females passed), 1275th overall (225 people total passed)

Transition 2:
4:28. Easily handed off my bike (finally!), grabbed my run shoes, two PBJ PowerBars and T1 race belt filled with four Chocolate PowerGels. I stopped in the bathroom since I had promised myself that I was NOT stopping on the run this year for any reason. I had some sunscreen applied, but apparently not enough since I still have a lovely “2107” tattoo on my right arm.

The best freaking part of the Ironman:
Finally! I love this part of the race, because spectators CONSTANTLY tell me I am going too fast and to slow down…if only they could see my splits to show that I am pretty consistent throughout and that I’m not totally crazy at the beginning!

The run in Kona challenges you just as much as the bike. While the wind is not as strong, the constant uphill or downhill or sun beating down on you does start to take its toll. Luckily for all the runners, we did experience some cloud coverage this day, but I almost didn’t care for it since I am finally good at running in the heat and humidity.

As you exit transition, there are people all over the road cheering for you. Ryan’s former coach’s fiancé called out, “Go Jacqui Giuliano!” and I almost started crying. It was SO nice having our families with us last year, so to have someone cheer for me was incredibly appreciated. Just before the first mile, you run down the same stretch that leads you to the finish. There was a crew from Barnana (AMAZING—seriously, try them if you shop at Whole Foods) and they went NUTS for me. It was awesome… and probably helped my first mile to be so fast.

 Is this real life???
 Sure is!
 Let's focus on my crazy quad instead of my dying face.

The next four-ish miles are down Ali’I where there are some inclines and then declines, but the road is definitely the most populated road of the run course. I kept flying by runners, vowing that I would make up my huge deficit that I gained on the bike. I made a mental note of where many of the girls in my age group were in hopes of running them down. Most of these girls were 2+ miles ahead, but Ironmans produce long days and anything is possible.

I knew once we passed the house that we stayed at last year that the turnaround was coming up. I couldn’t believe how consistent my splits were through the turn-around. Last year, I stayed sub-7 minute pace through mile six (if you take out the bathroom pit stop), so my goal this year was to stay sub-7 for longer. I knew mile 8 would likely be the mile that pushes me over 7-minute pace since it was one of the bigger uphills on the Ali’I part of the course. However, I was NOT going to let that ruin my day…especially since I knew Palani Hill was coming up and that mile split would be even slower!

After going up Palani Hill with only a 7:38 mile, I was pretty pumped. I could tell that my legs were in the groove, but knew this meant I needed to really monitor my nutrition if I wanted to maintain this pace (nutrition at the end of this part). I saw Ryan shortly after this, and told him that I was just running it in to finish. We had joked about me finishing before the sun set (around 6:30, so an 11:30 Ironman time), plus I had just run my 7:38 so really felt I was just running it in to finish.

I was not expecting to hit any more miles under 7-minute pace, so I am pretty sure my jaw dropped when that happened at mile 15. I figured I might as well go with it, downed another PowerGel and kept pushing through. At this point, we were entering the Natural Energy Lab. For whatever reason, this is where many people struggle. I knew that coming into Kona last year, so have made it a goal to catch as many people here as possible for that reason. This is also where the Special Needs bags are, so I passed a few people that had stopped for those as well. How I ran a 6:45 and 6:51 here was likely due to the fact that this area is more of a flat area, plus I could see girls in my age group exiting as I was entering (it’s about 2 miles in this Energy Lab place), so I was pretty motivated to catch them.

The way home from the Energy Lab was LONG. I knew I was getting tired but also knew I was running a consistent pace and needed that if I wanted to keep advancing in my age group. I just kept putting a different motivating song in my head after I would pass each mile. Thinking about something meaningless for a mile somehow works for me, so thanks to Taylor Swift for easy to remember lyrics and catchy beats.

 Sleep running?
Likely thinking of what my overall marathon time will be and if it will be fast enough to beat Ryan's ;)

Once I finally reached the last uphill on the Queen K, I passed the crazy group of cheerers who went wild for me when I first passed them going out. They were insane this time, likely because I was still running whereas others were walking up this hill. This powered me up the last uphill and I was ready to sprint from Palani on in. I passed two girls in my age group during this last little sprint (or 1.25 mile, same thing) and was SO excited to be able to hear Mike Reilly announcing finishers as they came in. The excitement of the crowd got to me again this year and my eyes were tearing up. I don’t care how many times I do this race, I think I will always get tears in my eyes during this last part. No matter how great or poor my race is, to be competing against the best in the world and cross that finish line is just something to be proud of. So many people would give so much to be able to have the experience I was fortunate enough to have for the past two years that I can’t help but burst into tears (excited tears) at this point.

 SO close!
 Beyond happy
"Jacqui Giuliano, YOU are an Ironman"
I made it a goal to NOT get any guys in my way of my finishing picture, so double checked behind me: good. Double checked there were no girls in front of me: good. There were two guys that were too far to catch, but running together so I couldn’t get around them anyway. I decided I was going to get my time at the finish so slowed just a touch. The guy in front of me decided to take what felt like five minutes to cross the finish line, so I quickly threw my arms up (both, this year I might add) and walked away with my volunteer.
 Arms WERE up...for like a split second.


 NO guy in my way this year!
I'll work on leaving my arms up longer next year.

Run nutrition:
Every aide station, I grabbed a sponge (when there were sponges available), a cup of water, a cup of Perform, another cup of Perform, and another water. From mile 7-ish on, I also grabbed Coke after mistakenly doing so but not minding it. This actually tasted great and likely helped my stomach handle the nutrition I was putting in it. I had three of my four Chocolate PowerGels (miles 11, 17 and 23).

Run stats:
3:04:45 run (7:03 average)
SPLITS: 6:37, 6:49, 6:43, 6:55, 6:53, 6:53, 6:58, 7:09, 7:09, 7:06, 7:38 (Palani Hill), 7:08, 7:02, 7:20, 6:58, 7:14, 6:45, 6:51, 7:17, 7:21, 7:05, 6:58, 7:06, 7:18, 7:24, 6:18, __ for 0.2 (I forgot to stop my watch)
1st fastest amateur female run split by 10+ minutes
9th place female in my age group, 66th female overall, 752nd overall
*last year: 13th place female in my age group, 89th female overall, 819th overall

As soon as I saw Ryan, he had all sorts of things to tell me. He said he was SO nervous that I would fall on the bike (he knows me well) and was just so thankful to see me cross that finish line. He told me how the bike was horrible for him, too, not just because of the crazy winds, but also because he got a bogus penalty.

The last thing Ryan had to tell me was that he thought he had a faster run split than me. He told me he ran a 3:07 and I quickly debated whether or not to tell him I likely ran faster than him. I was SO concerned about getting both arms up for my finish line photo that I hadn’t stopped my Garmin. However, I knew I started the run at about 7:34 on my watch, and I crossed the finish line at 10:38:xx, so I did the math and figured I was around 3:04. I told Ryan I wasn’t TOTALLY sure but might have beat his time. BOY did it take forever to get the official results. I was getting my post-race massage, and Ryan brought my official race results card over with a big pouty look on his face… sure enough, I had run a 3:04. Guess who’s doing dishes for the next month? (Kidding)

 Well, hello there!
 2 year anniversary, 2 years in Kona!
So lucky to have a husband as crazy as me :)

Overall, I am still having mixed emotions about my race. I am ecstatic with my run split (only a handful of female pros ran faster than me too, which was sweet to see!). I am okay with my swim split, knowing full well that I am capable of better but just need more time in the pool. But I am still angry about my bike split. I am SO much stronger than what my bike split shows, obviously physically, but also mentally. How I let myself slip into that dark place for so long in the race still blows my mind. I talked with Coach Dave and have been communicating with Coach Jen and we all know that my bike is primarily a result of my stress-induced breakdown. While I am by no means a 5:30 biker on the day that we had on Wednesday, I sure as heck should be in the 5:40s…and guess what, that would have placed me top 5 in my age group (a goal coming in, if everything was to go well).

I am beyond thankful for this experience and don’t want to sound like I am upset about it. I made the choice mentally to “give up” and not work to my potential during the first 60 miles of the bike, and it definitely produced some regrets. BUT, this also makes me hungry to come back. I know I can compete better than what I showed and am excited to have the chance to do so again if we are able to qualify. So, right now it’s time to take a little break and reflect on how lucky I am to have a body, husband, family, and job that support me in these crazy adventures.

Thank you SO much for all of the support before, during and after this race. Thank you to my friends and family for believing in me. Thank you to EGO presented by Sammy’s for the coolest bike in Kona (thanks to Ryan for the custom color job), PowerBar for providing me with the proper fuel to keep me moving, Saucony for the awesome shoes that helped me power through the run, Coach Jen for pushing me harder than I thought was possible during workouts, and to my husband for putting up with my craziness of training and teaching. I have learned a LOT from this race and promise the next time you see me cross the Ironman finish line will be a MUCH different outcome.

 Post-race shaved ice with ice cream in the middle? yes, please
 Oh, just hangin' with Apollo biggie.
 Hula Daddy Kona Coffee Tour/Tasting
 Volcanoes National Park
 Last breakfast oceanside
The reason we got into this Kona qualifying thing: celebrating our wedding anniversary <3 p="">


Pamela Bender said...

Congratulations Jacqui!! Great job!! I really enjoyed reading about your whole Kona experience!! I was checking the tracker during your race (both yours and Ryan's) and was just in awe knowing what you were going through at the time. You are one tough chick!! Not only are you an amazing athlete (and teacher!), but you are such a sweet, humble person, which is a wonderful combo and speaks volumes for what your future holds.

Also, Happy (belated) Anniversary you two! You are both amazing people and such an awesome couple and I am honored to know both of you and to have had the experience of having been on the the U of I XC/track team with you! I still remember way back when you stayed with Lynn and I on your visit as our recruit! Wow, does that feel like a long time ago! Lol!

Anyway, congrats again you guys! Enjoy this time as you recoup from the past couple of weeks! You did amazing! And Jacqui....stop stressing so much! ;)

Thanks for sharing all of the pics from your trip! I loved seeing them!

~Pamela Bender

amy said...

great report jacqui! you're awesome. i can definitely relate on the whole doing too much thing - the problem is you never know it's happening until it all falls apart!

jacqui said...

Thank you so much Pam!! I am so glad I went on that visit (though, I wish I would have just went to U of I right away!!) Can't wait to have another, less stressful writeup hopefully soon:)

Amy, isn't that the truth?! Hindsight is 20/20 as everyone says... Thank you :)

Sarah Slater said...

Many congrats to you on completing Kona, again! I just started reading your posts a few months ago and find them both entertaining and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your journey.