Ironman World Championships Race Recap

Crazy to think that it has already been a week since the gun went off on the 40th anniversary of the Kona World Championships.  The soreness has almost completed faded and the Ironman shuffle gone, however the strength and power gained from the day remains.  Last year I left the Island proud but disappointed and burning for redemption.  This year I left just as proud, probably more, full of strength and passion, and yearning for more.  I came to the island looking for something and deep down I knew that it was proof however I wasn’t ready to admit it out loud.  Most of training in 2018 was spent feeling as though I had something to prove, I thought it was an outside pressure that was making me feel like I didn’t belong but looking back at it and in retrospect after crossing the finish line last week I realized it was 100% an internal pressure.  The pressure to prove that I did belong in the sub 10-hour club, and a pressure to prove to the world (but really myself) that I did belong on the world stage. 

Enough of my mental instabilities let’s get to what I know you all want to hear…. RACE DAY!!

Race Day Morning

The alarm went off at 4 am on the 13th of October to a beautiful morning.  After having poured buckets of rain throughout the entire night there was some concern that the island was going to throw all sorts of crazy at us on race day.  Despite the worry we woke up to a gorgeous morning shinning down on the 40th anniversary of Ironman World Championships.  After having force fed oatmeal and coffee into my system we headed down to the start so that I could go through body marking, weigh in, and bike check.  While still hectic it was much less than last year because this time I knew where to go.

Body marked, weight checked (same as last year), and nutrition placed on my bike I was all set and headed out to hang with the family prior to the start of the race.


Hello washing machine!! Most of you who follow my journey, specifically through Instagram, you may know that I was seriously struggling with swimming going into Kona.  Swimming and I have a very rocky relationship and the last few weeks leading up to Kona were some of my worst.  My coach had a really good point in that with all the gains I had made in the pool, both physically and mentally, to revert back to the extreme negativity I felt towards swimming was disappointing.  Thinking I moved past these negative thoughts in the pool made it harder to swallow when I reverted back to them.  With that I will say I was a little nervous about my prospects during the swim, and while I stuck with my goal of swimming a 1 hr 10-minute swim in the back of my head I was a little unsure if it would be possible.


About ten minutes prior to 7:20 am the age group women filed down off the pier into the waters of Dig Me beach to swim out towards the start and after treading water for an extended amount of time the cannon sounded, surprising me, and the water exploded in a fury of arms and legs.  Not being a strong swimmer, I purposely did not start near the front of the pack as I was afraid of getting run over.  Looking back, I am not sure that was the smartest choice because it meant that I spent the entire swim trying to find open water as I made my way through the throngs of people.

Usually I love swimming in women only packs, because well women are supposed to be nicer then men right? Wrong!! It was brutal!  Not that any women were purposely beating on each other, I do not think that was the case, I just think that it was such a strong and fast group of age group women that we were all battling for the speed.  I really had to just focus on staying in my own lane, focusing on my form, staying consistent and in the moment.  One of my biggest problems during races is that I get lazy during the second third of a race, and I knew if I did that during Kona I would get my ass handed to me, so really focused on staying consistent and focused.

When the huge yellow Gatorade bottle came into my line of sight and every once in a while you could hear Ironman announcing the swimmers exiting the water I basically put my head down and pulled as hard as I could to get myself to the beach.  Each stroke I told myself was getting me closer to the bike where I just knew was going to be a good day.  All of the sudden I was walking, or rather falling as I missed the first step, up the steps back onto the pier and glancing down at my watch to see a sub 1 hr 10 minute swim time!! That is a personal swim record in ironman for me!!! I was thrilled. 



Wanting to try to get through transition as smoothly as possible I didn’t have much time to celebrate the small victory of a swim PR.  I have to give huge props to the volunteers in the changing tents. It was absolute chaos in there, as 1:05-1:12 was a huge span of women coming through, and they were amazing helping people get dressed, shoes on, fuel in their pockets, and herding us slightly disorientated cats out onto the pier to go get our bikes.  I am happy to say that I ran into Rachel Norfleet (@rachelnorfleet) and got to exchange good wishes as we both fumbled through the transition. 

Overall my transition time was slower than I would have liked as I had a hard time getting myself out of my Roka Sports swim skin, not because it was hard to get out of but more that whenever I come out of the swim I am a little disoriented ad don’t function properly.


As I hoped, or rather fumbled as hoping is not something I do, my way onto my new BMC Timemachine triathlon bike (ie: Marvel) and headed out onto the course I saw my dad who told me to not only get after it but to have some fun out there and those words stuck with me throughout the entire course.  Going into Kona I really focused on having fun.  I was so focused last year on the pressure of the race that I forgot to have fun, I forgot that I love this sport, I forgot that I love the pain, love the hurt and the challenge, and really just love everything that comes with triathlon.  This year I was going to have some fun, relatively speaking, because when I looked back on the races that I had the most success those where the ones that I could honestly say that I had a lot of fun out there. 

So fun we had!  This turned out to be one of my strongest rides to date.  With upgraded components from Ceramic Speed combined with my new bike and amazingly fast Irwin Cycling Carbon race wheels I felt as though I could push a lot more power than I ever had been able to. 


You’ve probably heard the rumors of the perfect, or near perfect conditions, of the Kona bike course this year and truthfully, they really were about as wonderful as you could get.  This race is known for the brutal winds that plague the island and swirl around you changing direction at any second, and this year there was none of that.  For someone who does not always excel in the wind this was a plus for me. 

Focusing on drinking my custom Infinit Nutrition and getting water at every single aid station was an important game plan for me going into this race.  I knew I needed to stay on top of it because even if it was perfect conditions on the bike there was no way it wasn’t going to be hot on the run. 

My family was at mile 42 of the bike course right at the turn where we head off the Queen K and begin making our way towards Hawi, and seeing them there gave me the boost I needed.  Knowing that they would be there became the game I played with myself over the next forty miles, where I began counting down the miles till I could see them again.  40 miles till I see my family, 30 miles till I see my family, 20 miles (that’s only one hour), and so on and so forth.  This kept me going on the way towards Hawi as I found myself struggling with the slight uphill.  While I believe my bike was executed almost perfectly the strength from mile 42 till 60, the Hawi turn back into town, where were I could have made some changes they were probably my slowest miles, and where I probably lost about 10 minutes of time, and I would like to be able to tackle these miles with a little more strength and consistency moving forward.

Despite the near perfect conditions, it is impossible to make it through an Ironman bike distance, 112 miles, without some sort darkness, in all truth it is impossible to go through an Ironman distance without darkness no matter how strong or great your day is.  By around mile 80, just before I saw my family for the second time I took the plunge and grabbed my first icy cold coke of the day.  Oh heaven!  I had been struggling a little bit to get my Infinite Nutrition down, I am not totally sure why as I have never had any issues before, and the soda tasted like straight gold.  I spent the next forty miles only being able to get coke and water down going through two bottles of coke by the time transition rolled around.

Around mile 90 it started to get a bit dark in my head, I had this intense pressure in my bladder that I could not relieve and all I wanted was off the bike. I have yet to figure out how to pee on the bike, I tried so hard to do so but it is like my brain and bladder are not connected during a bike ride.  The count down started and talking to myself started in big: “just five more miles and then you’ve got less than 20 miles to go.  You are biking at about 21 mph hour so 20 miles takes about an hour, and less than 20 miles is less than an hour.  Ok you’ve hit 100 miles you’ve got 12 to go, that’s around a half an hour.” And so on and so forth.



I rolled into transition looking a bit rough.  My dad would later comment that it gave him a moment of pause as I had that look on my face, the look of how in the world am I going to run a marathon now?  Honestly, I think it was all due to my bladder being so full I could barely move.  I limped my way through transition into the changing tent where I fairly immediately went to the porta-potty and probably peed for a full two minutes, it was life changing.  Then grabbing my run shoes, Where Your Feet Take You hat, new Rudy Project Defender Sunnies (these rock by the way – thank you Jillienne) and a cool towel on my neck took off praying my legs were gonna hang in there.


Here is where I wanted my redemption.  Last year in Kona I ran somewhere around a 4:04 and spent the entire marathon wanting to quit (ie: die) for a 3:15 Ironman marathoner this was a bit of a gut check for me and I was incredibly disappointed in it.  Needless to say I had some unfinished business with the Kona marathon.  I settled in right around race pace and was able to hold onto it for the majority of the race as you will see in a bit. 

Running down Ali’i drive is so much fun.  People lined the streets and the support is amazing.   I was a bit jealous to run past Elise (@trespinas) to see her and her boyfriend drinking a beer…. All I could think is oh man that sounds good.  Let’s get back to the amazing support that lined the run course.  Two friends, Neil and Jacquie, from Spokane came down to cheer on the entire Spokane crew who was racing (we had a solid Spokane showing at Kona) and they were AMAZING!!!! Each time I ran past them their, screams boosted me to run just a little bit faster. 

The adrenaline of Ali’i drive only lasts so long and then you make that turn onto Palini up the Hoka One One hill, turn left and head out onto the Queen K.  Last year this is where it all fell apart for me and I was determined to not let it again.  In standard fashion the Queen K fights you with everything it’s got and it took all my energy to fight back.  The only thought that ran through my head was stay consistent, stay consistent.  So I did, I set my pace as fast as I thought I could handle and just hung in there.  Throwing water in my face at every chance I could and grabbing sponges like they were going out of style. 

As I was nearing the end of the Queen K to make the turn into the Energy Lab, spoiler alert – you spend more time in the energy lab this year and it was about to get brutal, when I heard Eminem coming from behind me.  YAY Brandon found me!!!  Music blaring from his water bottle speaker I asked him at that point where I was, praying I had already broken into the top 10.  You’re 12th, he said. “WHAT?!?! I’ve been running so fast!”   He reminded me to stay consistent as at the moment I was running faster than most of those in front of me, though the thing would be that they had enough of a lead on me I wouldn’t catch all of them.  So consistent I stayed.

Then the Energy Lab hit.

UGH!! It was so fricken hot!! Despite the beautiful day we were having and the amazing bike conditions it meant that it got really hot by the time we were all running, and at mile 15 of the marathon with 10 miles to go I was hot!!  Stay consistent, stay consistent.  This became a lot harder to do as I made my way down the energy lab and my pace swayed just a bit, by the time I exited the energy lab I thought I was done.  I was ok with staying at my 8 min/mile pace, I had strayed from race pace a bit, and just getting through it.  Thankfully Brandon had a different mindset for me.

At that moment Brandon got a call from my father, who is a wizard at the Ironman Tracker, who told him that if I could run faster (standard saying of my dad - he’s been telling my sister and I to just “run faster” since we were in middle school) I could potentially catch the top 5.  But I was going to have to dig deeper than I have ever dug in my life.  I can’t remember exactly what did it for me but something snapped and there was no way I wasn’t going to give it every ounce of everything I had in me to make a play for the top five.  I raised my eyes up, picked up my knees, and drove my arms and said lets go for it.  Next thing I knew I was back on that 7:00 min/mile pace and there was nothing going to stop me. 


Despite not being able to get any fluids or nutrition down the last three to four miles, literally spit up whatever I ingested, I knew I could run 3 miles even on an empty stomach. 

As I made the turn back down the hill I came across my mom.  I absolutely love how my family spreads out so that they can all see me at different points, and my mom is the cutest person ever to come across.  She jumps in the air, runs down the side, shouting at me to pick my knees up, run faster, and that I am doing awesome.  It was just the boost I needed to make the last mile in, I am not sure I would have been able to pick it up if it hadn’t of been for my mom yelling at me at the last moment.  Finishing up the last mile I could see a girl just ahead of me part of me was like you need to run a little bit faster to beat her but then my body was saying you have absolutely nothing left just hang in there.  For a few seconds I gave into my brain saying just make it to the finish line and stayed where I was.  Then my dad flashed in my head and I could hear him, “don’t ever let someone beat you by seconds.  You either get beat by a ton (ie: come in last) or you crush them (ie: win).”  I have no clue where the speed came from, but I found it and gave it whatever was left for the last half mile. 

AHHHHH the red carpet, the reason we all do these.  I crossed the finish line with absolutely nothing left in the tank, I was done, having left it all out on the course I was so done.  While all volunteers at an Ironman sponsored race are pretty amazing there is something special about the finish line volunteers.  They don’t hesitate to put their arms around you and allow you to put all your weight on them.  They don’t shrink at the fluids that line your body, a mix of sweat, water, pee, and if you are Patrick Lange an entire bottle of cola but rather embrace it as they give up their own body to keep yours up right.  Plus they listen to you ramble nonsense about your race, when you really have no clue what it is that you are saying.  Thankfully after about five to ten minutes I was able to shuffle along on my own and made my way to my family!

Finish time: 10:00.36
Place: 8th Age Group 25-29
Second fastest Age group run at 3:20

The standard question I have been receiving lately is the so what is next? Honestly I have no clue at this moment. I am not one to plan my races way ahead of time, and I really needed to focus on Kona and not what was coming next year. But I can tell you the goal for me is always to get back to the island and improve from what I did the year before. I absolutely love Kona, I love the push of the training, the brutalness of the race, the atmosphere, the energy, the drive of each person out there. I love the beauty and the strength that you gain from being on the island and I love the never give up attitude of each person out there. This is what I took most from this year’s Kona race; 1) how much I love it 2) the amazing people that I have met along the way 3) the beauty that comes from the vast hardships that the race puts you through and 4) the strength you gain from crossing that finish line. I am not done with Ironman and for sure not done with the Island.



Thank You’s

Mom and Dad - I cannot put into words the love I have for these two people. They have raised me to be strong, they have never once given up on me, and their support is what keeps me going at all times. Besides my husband they are the two people I look for at every moment of the race, and the two people I can’t wait to hug no matter how the race goes. I am so thankful for their support.

Husband - well you all know how much I adore this man and it seems like a lot of you love him as well after his amazing instagram live updates. He gives up so much for me, puts up with my crazy, and supports me in all aspects of life. When I say I want to do an Ironman he researches the best one to do, and never questions me. His is my rock, my high when I am low, and brings me back to earth when I need it.

Coach Heather - I went to Heather in January and said I wanted stronger, faster, and harder; she gave it to me. After qualifying in April for Kona I went to her and said I want more, I want stronger, faster, and harder. No questions asked she gave it to me. She continues to push me outside my limits, encourages me to be a stronger person, and has become such an integral part of my team I don’t think I could do it without her.

In-laws (Tracey and Scott) - for their constant support and for allowing me to share their son’s life.

My athletes - for those that don’t know this past January I launched my coaching business, Where Your Feet Take You, and the encouragement and motivation I get from each of them is unbelievable. I could not imagine the blessing starting this business could have been. Plus they put up with me for two weeks during Kona so they get serious props.

Tres Pinas (ie: Elise) - for not only being an amazing friend but also for the badass, most comfortable, most amazing kit a girl could ask to honor the world championships in.

Each of my sponsors:
Infinite Nutrition - for always supplying me with the best nutrition to perform my best. When I needed it most they came through to make sure that I had all the right nutrition for Kona.

Irwin Cycling - for the fastest wheels, they are seriously so fast and light and I love them.

Rudy Project NA - for the best helmet (safety bucket) and sunglasses. Seriously, the new Defender sunnies are amazing.

Styve Bitlong - the best protein snacks, as an athlete we rely on our nutrition and fueling our bodies for strength. Styve Bitlong helps me do that.

Roka Sports - for ensuring that each of my athletes are suited to Find Faster in each of their races.

To each and every person who reached out to me before, during, and the race. I cannot express how grateful I am to each of you for your continued support, love, and cheer that you provide. I seriously could not do it without each of you, you motivate me to continue to be a better athlete and most importantly a better person.

Kayla Bowker