TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I had the pleasure of chatting with some of the TCSD members who finished Ironman Hawaii on October 10th. I asked them 3 questions and I thought you’d enjoy the answers of our elite members.
Craig: What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome to finish Ironman Hawaii?
Katherine Adler (1st Kona finish): I thought the run would suck the most because I’m a swimmer and swimmers can’t run (which holds true in my case), but actually the bike was sooo long and annoying for me! I was actually looking forward to starting the marathon because I was so over the bike. Who does that?
Lynn Crossman (1st Kona finish): Memorial Day weekend I had a bike crash and broke my jaw in 3 places. I was wired shut to later learn I needed additional jaw surgery. I now have a titanium plate as I had actually shattered my jaw socket. I was then banded shut for about 7 weeks. I also was not wearing bike gloves during my crash and took the skin off my hand to the muscle so I had to have a skin graft.
Eric Davidson (1st Kona finish): The bike course was hard because of the conditions. I’ve raced hilly courses (Wisconsin, Lake Tahoe, Coeur d’Alene) but Hawaii was more difficult for me with the heat, humidity and wind. Five miles short of Hawi, the rain and wind picked up which made the road surface precarious. The cross-winds after the turn in Hawi were treacherous but the worst part was the headwind in the last 40K coming back into Kona. Success isn’t always measured by the result: 13:43 was one of my slowest times but one of my favorite days in triathlon.
Claudia Flynn (1st Kona finish): I had different obstacles. First, I was not sure I could even make it to the start line due to a knee and shoulder injury early in the year. I took an aggressive approach and did everything possible to get there (MRI, PT, ART, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, kinesiology) and modified training plan. On race day, my biggest concern was to deal with the harsh winds on the bike (mainly crosswinds) because of my size (4’11” 95 lbs). I prayed to my parents and St Anthony for almost 40 miles (going to and back from Hawi) not to be blown away. The heat (up to 95 degrees) and humidity (95%) took a toll on me. The last 30 miles of the bike with headwind was tough and a bit demoralizing. A volunteer hosed me down a bit too much at mile 1.5 into the marathon and I had to deal with bad blisters and toe nail issues from then on. My nutrition was far from perfect, and I paid for it with cramps during the run. Seeing the blind and other challenged athletes on the run made me realize that my “issues” were temporary and not important at all. I felt thankful to be there with them. Although the race didn’t unfold as I planned, I fought until the end and crossed the finish line proud of what I had done.
Brannen Henn (1st Kona finish): I was fortunate and got to the starting line healthy. I was unfortunate that around mile 25 on the bike I could not keep down my nutrition. Everything I took in, came back up. This took a big toll on me mentally, but as the race progressed it took a toll on me physically since I was not able to take in the nutrition I needed to stay strong on the bike.
Amy Rappaport (3rd Kona finish): My biggest challenge, or obstacle was wanting to come back and race on the Big Island. The race in 2001 was soooooo windy and scary that I cried on the bike. I had such a negative vibe regarding the race, it took me 12 years to “want” to be on the start line again.
So glad I did! I really enjoyed the race this year, I could look at the scenery on the bike ride and enjoy the ocean and the lava. I wasn’t holding on for dear life.
I’m so happy I love this race again.
Lisa Rehberg (1st Kona finish): The journey to get to Kona was my biggest obstacle. After qualifying at IMAZ I did what every “type A” triathlete does and didn’t take time to recover! Well, not so smart for us “older folks” and my body let me know! I spent the next eight months dealing with the injury from hell! (But aren’t they all!). I wasn’t able to run and cycling was sporadic. I watched my fitness decline and spirits dwindle as I tried every therapy known to man to fix my hamstring. If it weren’t for the faith and encouragement of those close to me, I seriously would have thrown in the towel. Then on July 1st I went on my first run. A memorable day to say the least. Slowly I worked back up to marathon distance, even though my hamstring reminded me it was not happy. I had decided that my goal had become one to simply enjoy, finish, and soak in the 140.6 Kona journey and hope my body would hold up.
Donn Ritchie (8th Kona finish): My biggest challenge in this race came about as my heart rate monitor strap broke while I was taking off my swim skin-suit. I’ve always done my hard training, and all of my racing, while monitoring my heart rate to better distribute my effort. Without the monitor I pushed the first half of the bike too hard, and during the final 30 miles, neglected my nutritional needs while pushing even harder as I fought the strong head winds. These mistakes really hit me during the run, where I normally only walk through the aid stations. My wife was waiting at the first half mile marker to give me an update on the competition, and I had to walk three times before I got to her, so I knew the run was going to be terribly slow. It took over 3 hours of run/walk to overcome my dehydration and get my calorie intake back to where I could run consistently for the final 9 miles. My run ended up being 38 minutes slower than the average of my seven previous runs in Hawaii.
Richard Sweet (3rd Kona finish): Getting to the starting line usually has certain stress levels with normal items specific to prerace jitters, but I was not able to experience even those types of emotions due to major bike issues that could have ended my race before it even started. The 2 weeks leading up to Kona were particularly stressful due to the discovery of a cracked fork on my bike by the bike shop as they were performing some usual prerace maintenance. After days of back and forth, we were told there were no replacement forks at the manufacturer ready to ship so the bike shop loaned me a new bike off the floor just 2 days before leaving for Kona. I was very grateful however I was not able to dial the bike fit in 100% before the race and had no idea how my position would feel on my back or legs after 112 miles. My stress level then went off the chart when I checked my loaner bike into transition the day before the race. Once in the transition area, before racking my bike I went to shift the chain to the small chain ring, the Di2 shifting was 100% dead. At that point I had to pull my bike out of the transition area only 2 hours before Bike check in was over. I took the bike to 3 different bike tents at the expo and none of them had the DI2 computer interface or SW. In the end I was able to drive my bike to one of the host bike shops outside of town who had to update the DI2 firmware to get the DI2 shifting again. Needless to say, I have never experienced such an emotional rollercoaster leading up to a race before.
Craig: The journey to this particular finish line may have taken years. Was it worth it?
Katherine: I was very lucky and was able to actually qualify for this race. I found out on the Tuesday before the Superfrog 70.3 that Ironman was opening up 20 military slots to qualify for Kona 2015 with that race. I was stationed in Coronado, so I figured that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and signed up that Thursday figuring that they’d have to at least save four slots for girls and that all I’d have to do was finish. (They actually split it down the middle and had ten slots for women, but I don’t think ten military females even signed up!) I “raced” on that Sunday, September 28th, 2014 on The Strand. I remember calling my dad the night before asking him what to do because I only had one water bottle holder on my bike. So basically I crawled across the finish line and that was how I got a qualifying slot for Kona.
I remember people were beeping their car horns and waving at me as they were driving away with their bikes on top of their cars because they were leaving and I was still running. A guy even passed me running with one leg and I had originally thought, “wow, that person behind me really runs very loudly” and then when he passed me, I was overwhelmed because he was crushing it with one leg and I had all my limbs and was sucking haha.
I got a coach, Carrie Lester, through USMES (United States Military Endurance Sports) and then started training on January 5th, after a snowboarding trip to Big Bear when they actually got snow. Working full time, training, planning for my transition into the reserves, and looking for a civilian job for after the Ironman were very good focuses for me. It was a lot to handle, but I did it. My command was very proud of me which helped during my training. I was lucky that they valued physical fitness and I was able to train before work, at lunch and after work. Carrie, my coach, gave me the workouts and modified my training plan through some injuries, but also was a terrific sounding board for many questions and difficult times I had throughout my training. I am very thankful to have her as my coach. Besides TCSD, I had joined the PeakFinders, a smaller club and did a lot of my Saturday rides with them. I learned so much and made great friends with them. My navy and civilian friends were very supportive and all participated in some workouts which was very fun for me to have training buddies.
I guess total, my road to Kona was a little over a year. I started training in Jan 2015 and became an Ironman in October 2015. It’s crazy to think that my longest triathlon before Superfrog was an Olympic distance that August at the Chula Vista Challenge, also with no training like Superfrog. I am proud that I trained so hard for Kona and feel that like many great things in life, the more you prepare, the better results you get.
Lynn: It was definitely worth it! This has been a dream of mine since 2009 when I competed in my first Ironman. It took me 4 Ironman attempts before I qualified. I was always top 10 but never top 1, 2, or 3. My husband and I moved from Nashville to San Diego a couple of years ago. It was the move to San Diego and being able to train year-round with this incredible talent that helped get me from top 10 to top 2 ironically in the inaugural IM Chattanooga to qualify.
Eric: I began my triathlon journey when I raced Arizona in April 2008 – and earned my entry to Kona via the Legacy program by racing 13 more Ironmans over the next 6 years. It was ironic that my 15th Ironman was in Kona in the year 2015. For anybody wondering if it’s worth it, put that question aside and go for it! Experiencing Kona as an athlete is absolutely incredible!
Claudia: Finishing Kona Ironman is a dream come true and absolutely worth all the hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Back in the 90’s, I watched it on TV. I just couldn’t believe people would put their bodies through something so hard, but I wanted to try it someday. I grew up in Colombia in a family with no sports background. When I came to US, I started running in 2001 and after a bad bike crash in 2005, I started swimming. I joined TCSD in 2006 and did my first triathlon (Olympic distance club race in Coronado). I don’t have speed, but have endurance & mental strength. I did Vineman IM (2008), St George IM (2010) and HITS Lake Havasu (2014). Last September 2014, while in the water and ready to start Lake Tahoe IM, the race got canceled due to the King Fire in Sacramento. Although I was devastated that day, the outcome couldn’t have been better and totally unexpected. I was one of the lucky Lake Tahoe entrants to get one of the 50 qualifying slots to Kona. Mom was right when she told me I was going to win the lottery. She didn’t know it was going to be for the Ironman World Championship.
Amy: Kona 2015 was my 20th Ironman and my 100th triathlon. I did my first Triathlon in 1991.
I can remember watching the NBC Ironman coverage in my childhood living room, never did I imagine that I would ever be on the start line. I wasn’t athletic as a kid. I didn’t start running until I was 30. I’m sure if I went to a high school reunion no one would believe that I’ve started and finished 20 Ironman races including 3 Ironman World championships. However, I would be the only one that still fits into the blue jeans I wore in high school.
Triathlon has been my lifestyle for 25 years. The best part of racing is the people that I have met. I have many friends that I have met at races and keep in touch with. It’s wonderful to have people to cheer you on during the race.
Someday I need to compile a list of all the super star triathletes that I have had the pleasure of meeting. To meet the athletes we idolize makes me feel like a kid again.
Yes, the getting up before the sun to swim, freezing on bike rides and struggling through runs you don’t feel like doing is all worth it when you feel great at 80 miles of the bike ride during an Ironman. The training paid off. The rewards and memories for a lifetime are a treasure well worth working hard for.
Lisa: I never imagined I would toe the line at the World Championships. This was for “fast” people and I never really thought of myself as fast. When I race I do it for the love of the sport, the training, comradery, and being outdoors with friends! And my husband appreciates me being out of the mall! I’m embarrassed to say I don’t train with cadence, power, or heart rate. My philosophy is to enjoy the journey and your body will do what you trained it to do. So I don’t ever think I could say that Kona was my destination. A dream perhaps, but don’t we all have dreams. I feel I just got pretty darn lucky at qualifying. To ask was it worth it???!!!! Well, I got to live a dream and that was pretty darn awesome. Before qualifying for Kona a friend gave me a keychain with the words “wish it, dream it, do it!” So ironic that she had given it to me, as it now has become my mantra in life.
Donn: I’ve kept a training log since 2001. Looking back to my first day, I was only able to run 5 minutes before stopping in exhaustion. Now I spend over 20 hours in training per week as I gear up for a race. Getting to Hawaii takes a lot of time that could otherwise be spent with family or at work—so it’s definitely a trade-off. Since I’m mostly retired and our daughter lives out of state, the time commitment doesn’t hit me as hard as a lot of athletes, and my wife is extremely supportive (and she loves going to Hawaii for the race). So in my case, the time and effort has been worth it, but I can understand how other athletes, even with great potential, have to choose a different path and prioritize their families or career over their training.
Richard: Since 2011 I have raced 8 Full Ironmans total, 3 have been in Kona. They were all worth it! I have been fortunate to have Jeff Fieldhack as my mentor in this sport and have been lucky to train here in San Diego with younger athletes and pros who have allowed me to see the focus and commitment level required to get results. This sport requires a commitment to a certain lifestyle (which I enjoy) and the journey has just really begun for me as I still have goals to achieve and much to learn.
Craig: What will be your fondest memories from racing Ironman Hawaii in 2015?
Katherine: I only had two fans physically at the race and they were my Dad and my friend Clare. I felt honored that they were there to cheer me on. We also had a lot of laughs. I will remember being in the beauty of Hawaii. It is my favorite place on Earth and I felt so happy and blessed to be back. I was previously stationed on Oahu. I will remember the difference between my two transitions very well. I had apparently come out of the water very fast and all these volunteers were catering to me very highly because there was only one other girl in the tent that had come in after me. I had never done an Ironman and they kept asking me what I wanted, regarding sunblock, towels, water, sneakers etc. I didn’t know really the routine of things so I was like, “Can I just sit here for a minute?” They looked at me crazy, so I let them put the sunblock on. Then I got myself together and was off on the bike. Now, when I came in from the bike is another story. I had an 8hr10min bike so I think the volunteers were also jaded and tired at that point. I had sliced my heel surfing two nights prior to race day on some lava rocks and needed to change my bloody bandage, but no one was helping me. I kind of had to speak up to get some attention even though really no other athletes were in the tent this time either. The volunteers were then very nice and helped me put a new bandage on and then I was able to get the rest of myself together and start the run.
Lynn: Just being there! I am so grateful and thankful. Shuffling on the run for the last 13 miles which gave me the opportunity to dedicate miles to people who are going through much more in their lives right now. If I’d been feeling good, then I would not have done such a thing. Memories of “firsts” in an Ironman: wearing the glow stick, watching the sun set as I went into the Energy Lab, drinking chicken broth. Smiling – Even though I felt so awful, I couldn’t help but smile because I was there. Learning the importance of love and support of others in life.
Eric: Best memory was having family and friends along to share the experience. I rented a house on Ali’i Drive (Miles 3 and 7 on the run-course) which made it convenient for my group to watch the race and see me twice. I’ve gone to many races alone so having a cheering section was special.
Susanne Davis (6th Kona finish): As I reflect on my experience at the Ironman World Championships the most memorable moment that comes to mind is my family. This year I wasn’t captured by the echoing of the bongo drums before the cannon went off to start our swim or the finishing chute of screaming fans, music blaring and Mike Reilly calling my name as I came across the finish line. This year I remember vividly the points along the course where I got to see my 2 kids and husband yell, “GO mom!”
This year’s race was about introducing Ironman to my children for the first time. They’ve never seen me race in more than a local sprint or Olympic distance triathlon. I didn’t want them to view Ironman as long or boring and I wanted them to understand the significance of Kona to me. With Matthew almost turning 12 years old and Brooke at 7, I thought they would remember this event and they started asking us if they could come to Hawaii and see me race. I started racing Ironman when my son turned 2 and Kona was my first one. So technically, Matthew saw me race in 2005, but neither he nor my husband saw much of my race; because at 2 years old he put fists full of lava rock in his mouth, cried from the heat, was restricted in a stroller and cared more for Thomas the Train zooming past him over any $11,000 Trek bicycle mommy rides on!
The first time I saw them was after the swim while on the bike. I just climbed up Palani Hill and turned left onto the Queen K Highway. My kids were screaming from the side of the road, “Mom you’re in 2nd place! Way to go!”
We brought their scooters from home. They fit perfectly in the Ironman backpack that I got in Canada which is where I won in my age group and qualifed for Kona only 8 weeks earlier. This enabled them to scoot along the course and see me more easily with my husband being the sherpa for all of us.
Claudia: So many memories. Having the courage to even attempt to cross the iconic Kona finish line and being fortunate enough to compete among the best endurance athletes in the world representing 62 different countries. I feel blessed and grateful for that opportunity and thankful to all the people (coaches, therapists, family, friends, and training buddies) who helped me get there and believe in me. Learning the background and amazing stories of some of the athletes, puts your life in perspective and makes you very appreciative of what you have. Sharing the goal with 2400 other athletes (Pros and age groupers 19 to 85 years old) that “anything is possible”. Seeing other TCSD members, my support team Steve Bean & Michael Satterlee out on the course, and finally getting to the finishing chute after tough weather conditions is something incredible – the bright lights, the support of the family, spectators and volunteers calling the athletes names and the energy one feels – it’s hard to describe. Running the last 150 meters carrying a Colombian flag that my fiance then, Michael handed to me (by surprise), was totally amazing; hearing Mike Reilly calling,”Claudia Flynn, you are an Ironman” and being greeted & hugged by my friends Gino Cinco and Tracy Cohen right after crossing the finish line; I will never forget Kona and will cherish the memory for the rest of my life. Being in Hawaii, gave Michael and I the best excuse to get married 3 days after the race in Kukio beach, with 25 green sea turtles as guests. Definitely an unforgettable experience and trip!
Brannen: Kona was my third Ironman and I would say although there was disappointments regarding my race, it was a priceless experience for me. I had 19 people come to Kona to cheer me on. My closest friends and family took the time out of their lives to come and support me during the World Championship event. I was really having a tough time the last 30 miles of the bike because of the nutrition issues I was having, but thinking of all of them back at transition and the smiling faces I was going to see on the run made me push through it and not give up. My memories of the race that bring the most smiles to my face is seeing and feeling the love from all of them leading up to, during and after the race. I am so blessed!
Amy: My best memory is riding down from Hawi and looking out at the ocean and thinking how lucky I am to be here. And that my bike is not sideways.
I do remember Mike Reilly calling my name and of course “you are an Ironman!”
The best part of the week for me is hanging out with friends that I only see “at the races”. I enjoy all the days leading up to the race, the swims, the underwear run, the coffee, sitting down and reading a book. I truly love the culture and Spirit of the Big Island.
Lisa: My fondest memory of racing Kona was by far having my friends and family out on the course and seeing them have the time of their life while the rest of us fought through a grueling hot day. I’ll never forget looking up at about mile three on the bike and seeing 5 giant “heads” of my face being held up and the shout outs from my “Big Sexy” crew! I am on The Big Sexy Race team. Those “heads” popped up all over the run course, chasing me, taunting me, and reminding me to keep smiling! My support crew was beyond amazing! So much, that other athletes, spectators, and photographers took notice of their antics!
Donn: I’ve always been a goal driven person, and years ago I set some ambitious ones for myself. This year I achieved one of these—to get on the podium at the Ironman World Championships. Although this was my eighth time competing in this race, it was my first time on the podium. Receiving the third place award at the banquet dinner is a memory I’ll carry with me for a very long time.
Richard: I have never had any family members come to any of my Ironman races, but this year my brother-In-law and nephew came to support me. My nephew was so inspired that I learned today he bought a new Cervelo P2 and I am excited to help him with his journey.
Craig: Congratulations to you all and thank you for sharing your experience with us. Good luck getting back to Kona!
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.