The Hawaii Ironman World Championship is where the best of the best from around the world come to compete. The race takes place on the Big Island of Hawaii each year, and 2007 marked my fifth time arriving in Kona to take part in the event.
I left Toronto on October 1st and flew to Kona via San Francisco. I met up with my good friend, Denis, in the San Francisco airport as he, once again, came to help me in my preparation for Ironman. Denis was with me in both Lanzarote and Austria earlier this season and it was wonderful to see him again.
It felt great to arrive in Kona again. I distinctly remember landing in Kona the very first year I participated in this race because I was shocked by the barren moon-like landscape; I had never seen lava fields before. But, when I arrived this year it was like coming home again. Kona is now very familiar and comforting to me and is a very special place for me. I have stayed at the same B&B for the last five years and I was extremely excited to see David and Eliane again this time around. I know I have said this many times before, but they are truly like a second family to me. David and Eliane are incredible people with the biggest and warmest hearts, not to mention their breakfasts are divine!
I am always anxious when I have to pack up my bike and travel with it, but it arrived on the same plane as I did, and I assembled it immediately upon my arrival to confirm all was in good order. Fortunately I did not have to call Enduro Sport back home to ask them to send me a new Cervelo P3C! I swear this bike looks fast even when standing still, especially with my new PRO Missile Carbon TT aero bars up front.
I began my pre-race training regime with Denis they day after our arrival, though it took a few days to acclimatize to the heat. Swims from Dig Me beach, bike rides along the Queen K Highway, and runs along Alii Drive made up the majority of my training. I also had a couple light weight workouts to do and Denis wanted to learn what I do for weights, so he came with me to the gym one day. After the session poor Denis had sore abdominal muscles for over a week! Seven days later he was still saying “Oh, no, I can’t laugh…it hurts so much”!!
Arriving in Kona this year had a much more positive feel to it compared with last year. Last year I suffered from a stress fracture of my femur and a torn adductor muscle leading up to the race and was still water running in the ocean after my arrival. This year, however, I had a great season leading up to the big day. Dr. Lawrence Micheli’s painful but phenomenal A.R.T. sessions throughout the season helped to keep me strong and I worked hard to get faster while staying healthy. I did a lot more racing this season and achieved some really strong results which provided me with a lot of confidence heading into this race. I was ready and excited to race on October 13th!
In Hawaii I also enjoy meeting up with some amazing triathlete friends that I have made over the last number of years of racing around the world. We train together and spend some great quality time reconnecting with each other. Training with Ted, Danielle, and Patrick was perfect and things were feeling right on track for the upcoming race!
Bruce, Mike, my Dad and Hanne all arrived the next week. Their support means the world to me and of course, it is always great to see Bruce again, as we spend some time apart when I travel away from home to train and race.
With the large number of athletes and other triathlon-related people around Kona leading up to the race, it is amazing how often you run into people you know. A funny thing happened the day the Ironman Expo opened: While chatting with some friends on Alii Drive about my new Zoot running shoes, I mentioned I was just about to call Mike Rouse from Zoot to arrange to meet him in person over the next couple of days. As I was uttering those words, a guy came up behind me and said: “Thank you for wearing Zoot.” And who was it? None other than Mike Rouse! How is that for timing?! “Hey, I was just saying I wanted to give you a call!” I replied. I think these types of chance meetings are a regular occurrence along Alii Drive.
In the days prior to the race I had a couple mental sessions with my mental coach, Etienne Couture. Even while traveling around the world I ensure I continue my work with Etienne as it is a huge part of my success and improvement over the last couple years. I have collected photographs of me speaking with Etienne on various payphones and cell phones in the most amazing places on a main street in Klagenfurt, Austria, on dusty road on a tiny island next to Lanzarote, and of course, in Kona too. It is definitely true that Ironman is 1/3 physical, 1/3 nutrition, and 1/3 mental, so not only must I train my physical body, but I must train my mind as well.
Race day seemed to come quickly. After registration, bike check-in, and the pro athletes' meeting, it was time for just one more sleep before race day. I slept well and woke up at 4am race morning. I always eat the same pre-race breakfast before Ironman (a very large bowl of oatmeal, 1 banana, two GU gels, and a cup of tea) and after forcing down these calories I headed to the race site. After getting body marked (race numbers stamped on my arm), checking in my race day nutrition, pumping up my tires, working myself into my wetsuit, and a quick goodbye to Bruce, it was time to head to the start.
After a short warm-up in the water, I positioned myself slightly to the left on the start line in an effort to protect my now dislocation-prone shoulder from the kicking feet of other athletes. The next thing I knew the gun went off to signal the race was on. This is definitely one of the more beautiful swims in Ironman and I have to keep my focus on the race to ensure I do not get distracted and check out all the beautiful tropical fish!
The swim is a one-loop course and starts at the pier in Kailua-Kona. Swimmers head out to the boat turnaround and then head back to exit at the same pier by the race start. After a dislocated shoulder at Ironman Lanzarote in May, in addition to carefully choosing my starting position, I also tend to be conservative in the swim as I cannot risk getting caught up in the mayhem of feet and arms that are fighting for position in the front pack, so I ended up in the third pack of women. This pack felt a little slow for me, but I knew that sprinting ahead to join the second pack would burn up a lot of energy and would result in a minimal improvement in time. So, I stayed in this third pack and conserved some energy knowing I could make up a few minutes of lost time easily on the bike. We seemed to hit the turn around quickly, and sure enough the return to the pier was much slower as the current was obviously now against us. I exited the water in 1:00:41, ranked 28th overall.
Starting the bike in 28th position meant I had much work to do! After the first relatively short out and back section along Kuakini Highway, I had already passed a number of pro women and I was feeling great. As I passed Bruce I heard him call out: “21st woman Tara”.
My heart rate was in a perfect range, my wattage was decent and I just kept pushing hard. This course is notorious for it’s cross winds and while it is always at least a little bit windy, it was relatively calm this year. There were a few frightening crosswind gusts after the turn around in Hawi to keep us honest, but nothing like the insane winds I experienced in 2005 and others experienced in 2001.
It was motivating to continually pass people on the bike, and I focused on riding a smart yet fast race. I passed 20 pro women on the bike and a number of pro men too. My goal for this race was to finish in the top-10, and by the time I dismounted the bike I had moved myself into 8th position overall. I had the fifth fastest bike of the pro women finishers in a time of 5:11:15 and I could hear Mike Reilly announce as I biked into T2: “We sure have an exciting women’s race on our hands…Only four minutes separate our top 7 women”. I was only 3 minutes back of seventh place, and after a good transition, started the marathon in a good position to achieve my top-10 goal.
As I headed out on the run, my family and friends cheered me on and I tried to find my running groove. At this point in the day, it gets hot. And I mean really hot! It felt particularly hot without a single cloud in the sky but I used my “ice in the hat every mile technique” of keeping my body temperature from over-heating. Every mile I also took a sip of Coke and water and swigs of my GU “Just Plain” gels.
The run starts with an out and back section along Alii Drive and then heads up the Palani hill to the Queen K highway where you run out and into the Energy Lab and back to the finish. I saw Denis a number of times out on the course as he was out on his bike, filming the race. Throughout the day, I saw Paula Newby-Fraser, Paul Huddle and Heather Fuhr out on the course monitoring the leaders. Karen Smyers as well as my friend Teddy called out some encouraging words as I exited the Energy Lab. By this time I had dropped two places on the run and I knew I was in 10th place. I went by Desiree Ficker on my way out of the Energy Lab as she was heading in and she stopped to cheer me on. Ironman is a very respectful sport and it was really nice of Desiree to encourage me, saying: “Tara, you only have six miles to go…Stay strong and you can come top-10”! Hearing Karen Smyers’ cheers was also very motivating. Karen is someone I admire greatly so I pushed on.
And I pushed. And I continued to push. And I ignored some blisters…and I pushed some more and ignored more blisters. I just kept running as hard as I could. I could feel some hints of cramping in my legs, and I could feel my pace slow down a bit, but I kept running. But with two miles to go, it happened: I cramped. My left foot and left outside shin spasmed. I took about 10 walking steps but I knew that I had to keep running to keep my dream of coming in the top-10 alive. I used my effective mental techniques to dissipate the cramps, and I kept running. With one mile to go, however, Erika Csomor passed me. Erika is a 2-time Duathlon world champion and a VERY fast runner. This pass happened to occur right where Bruce was waiting, and he called out: “Stay with her, Tara, don’t let her go that’s 10th place right there!” Well, I gave it my all but she was just too fast and I lost 10th position. I let her go, not because I gave up and not because of lack of effort, but because I just had nothing left in the tank to keep up with that pace. Heather Golnick then passed me with a couple of hundred yards to go. Maybe I could have stayed with Heather at the end, but I was tired and already somewhat defeated after having lost 10th place to Erika. I ran a 3:24:03 marathon which was not a personal best time, but an OK time for me given the day.
I came so close to my top-10 goal, but it was not to be on this day. I am still happy, and I am still proud of finishing 12th at the Ironman World Championship in a time of 9:41:28. This is my best finish at Hawaii by a long shot. I trained hard and raced hard all season, and the years of building up my strength and endurance are paying off. Following Samantha McGIone, I was the second Canadian woman to cross the finish line, and I am really happy with my result. I have taken yet another step in the right direction.
Big thanks to my coach, Scott Molina, who knows exactly what I need to do to get me stronger and faster. We still have some work to do, but we are getting there. I love this journey we are on together and I feel incredibly lucky to have his expertise on my side!
It is now time to recover well and take a bit of a break to heal and get ready for the 2008 season!
Thanks for reading!