This was the first all women’s World Championship. It was one of the largest (maybe the largest?) women’s field in a triathlon ever. Before heading to Kona, I was not totally thrilled that the mens and women’s races were split. In general, I like communities to be together. I love sharing the course with friends, men and women, and I love being in one spot where the only thing in the whole world that matters is triathlon. That is what I got last year when I raced in Kona. Just women in Kona left me kind of like “meh.”
“Meh” is the opposite of what this experience ended up being. It was full technicolor. Being surrounded by 2000+ incredibly fit, strong, focused and driven women on one island impacted me in ways I never anticipated. Women announcers, female pros, press all about women. 90% of cyclists on the road were women. I mean of course they were, but to constantly see mostly only women riding, swimming, running, everywhere… It was profound. And the men that were at the race, there were many, were there for women! I have never been around so many supportive men!
Is what it feels like to be a man?
Men vs. Women World Vibes
I was at the Men’s World Championships in Nice. It was a great race and it felt like an amped up Ironman race. Kona last year, same thing. Basically Ironman on overdrive. But Kona this year? It was different. “Vibe” is a hard thing to nail down. But the vibe was way more open, supportive, welcoming but also laser focused. The women were here as Susan Lacke writes to “Claim their Damn Spot” This was a dream for so many women for so long and they were going to soak it up, and they were going race and race hard.
There has been a lot of commentary that it was easy to get to Kona for women and it was a “watered down” race. There were many musing that it would have a high DNF (did not finish) rate because so many women “couldn’t handle” the conditions (insert eye roll).
It is true that more spots mean more women get to the world championships (equal to the number of male slots, btw). What is ignored is the depth of the women’s field. What makes the world championship is having the best compete against the best. We had that from pros to age groupers. It took a faster qualifying time to go to Kona in 2023 than 2022. Every woman completed the swim, a IM World Championship first. 97.2% finished, the lowest DNF rate ever in at the IM World Championships. Lucy Charles-Barclay had arguably the most dominant performance of a man or woman at the World Championship, leading gun to finish and breaking the course record. It was the fastest female pro IM worlds race with 16 pros breaking 9 hours. Women showed up as women do, all the fuck in.
This is what the 10 days were like. Badass women from the pros, to the age-groupers, to female announcers, to female led-media outlets, to sponsors, showing up and going all in on women racing at the highest level.
It wasn't just me that felt it. My daughter Azella had been dealing with her own confusion about the role of girls and women in the world. A few weeks ago she was punched in the stomach by a boy for wearing a “the Future is Us Girls" shirt. The experience heightened her awareness that the world is different for men and women.
As we walked down to the athlete check in she said to me, “Women and girls can do anything, we are the future! Look at all these women doing crazy hard things!”
As the race week went on, the more she got into the race. She wanted to do all the race things with me. She got up early to watch the pros on the bike course (she is forever a Lucy fan now). She saw the midnight finishers. She went all in on women racing. When I dropped her off to school her first day back she wore her Ironman shirt and my medal to show everyone what women can do. I knew she would love to see an all women race, but I never realized how powerful it was just being in that environment.
I do not know what the future of Ironman World Championships is, but I do know, if we want to empower more women, giving them a world stage to showcase the best female triathletes in the world, is a damn good place to start. There is no going back now. But why would we want to?
Ok on to the race...
I like to set goals and focus on creating something awesome in my life. It is less about the goal and more about who I become in the journey to achieve them. But it is also really cool when you achieve massive goals.
My massive goal was to race the Xtreme Triathlon World Championships (Norseman) and the Ironman World Championships in 2023. I started by qualifying for Norseman last summer at Starvation Xtri. As someone that never did sports until my 30s, this goal seemed like the perfect to go after, almost impossible, but not quite. Not a lot of women have done both, let alone both in one year. It was also a perfect way to kick off my new decade!
I turned 40 the Monday before the race.
I have been meditating daily for the last 1.5 years. My meditation teacher, Jess, suggested I go for a 3hr mediation. Yeah, I know, whoa. So I decided to start my first hours as 40 with a 3hr meditation. This is not for the faint of heart. But wow did it up level my race week mental prep! I have never been so calm and confident before a race!
I said a lot already about the vibe and power of all women racing and it 100% added to the excitement of the day. But what brought tears to my eyes was walking into T1 and all the volunteers were applauding. It all hit me at once. I was racing Kona… again. I am not an athlete that goes to Kona, I am an athlete that goes twice. I am an athlete that races Norseman and Kona in the same year. I set out 1.5 years ago to be this athlete and here I am! That is the athlete I am. I am a woman that can continue to push myself to new challenges and meet them head on. Whoa. Crying before I even got to my bike. A new first for me.
Not a fast swim for me BUT my pace was 1:34/100 yd which is my fastest IM swim pace. I just swam 600 yds extra. Whoops. The current kept pulling me out and I elected to stay wide thinking coming in would be too long. I should have cut into the buoy line and stayed there. Still, holding 1:34 for 4800 and not blowing up is like insane for me and shows the hard work I have been putting into my swim is paying off.
I knew it was going to be super hot. I laugh at the “perfect race conditions” commentary. True, there was very little wind on the bike, although there was not a lot of wind last year either and we had cloud cover for most of the day, but I digress. It rained the night before and the humidity was crazy high. Temps got into the high 80s with about 75% humidity. Real feel was 95 in town. The Energy Lab was much higher with zero cloud cover until just before dusk.
I knew the biggest issue was going to be overheating on the bike and not realizing it until the run. Last year I had my worst IM run ever in the lava fields and I was determined to not have a repeat of that experience. I also under-rode IMTX. I was so focused on the run that I made sure I would have run legs, I left too much on the table. My goal for this race was to ride the line between a solid bike and legs ready to run.
My coach, Marilyn, suggested I ride without HR. I already don't use HR in the swim or run. It did wonders to prevent under-riding. I focused solely on watts and feel. I was in the 6th swim wave and by the time I got on the course, I had many women to ride through. I bet I passed 1000 women. It was super fun and I felt so fast! I did have to keep checking in with myself to make sure I wasn't going over the "too hard" line too many times and I made sure to cool at every opportunity.
Overall happy with the bike power, tactics, and time. Could have rode this harder, but I think too much harder my run would have suffered with the heat. Its always a fine line.
Cliff Bloks - 1 packet
Skratch chews - 2 packets
Skratch Superfuel - 2.25 bottles
The Right Stuff - 2.5 packets
About 260 cals/ hour. This is lower than any other IM I have done but at IMTX, it was warm and a quicker bike and I had GI issues from too many calories on the bike. So, I backed off a bit when I realized my bike split would be in the 5.5 hr range.
My goal was to not do the slow death jog in the lava fields and end up almost passed out and sick in the bushes on the beach like last year. I went out on Pilani so excited to run but quickly realized I was not ok. My left foot hurt so much and I felt awful. I started to think:
“oh no, I am going to be walking this.”
“This is way worse than last year! Its only the first mile.”
"This is the worst I have ever felt in the first mile!"
“How slow can I run and still get a course PR?”
As I was starting to haul out my my "break glass in case of emergency" mindset tools to get me through a painful marathon, I saw the woman in front of me take a gel. Hmm. Maybe I should have some sugar before I go down a dark worm hole.
A gel and cheers from Azella and by 3.5 miles in I was like “oh I am actually totally fine!” My nutrition on the bike was lighter which gave me a solid stomach but also a little low on fuel. Thankfully, I was able to correct that quickly and by mile 5 I was cruising. A nice reminder that sugar first, dark worm holes second.
With the heat it was immediately apparent that my race plan paces where not possible. So I let go of a 4hr marathon and targeted a pace I felt I could run all day. New pace, 9:30s for flats and sustaining that effort on climbs until the Energy Lab then new plan depending on how I felt. I more or less got that down. When I got on the Queen K I started to really slow at aid stations to make sure I cooled off. Yes, this makes you slower for a few minutes, but it can also mean the difference between a strong finish and a slog (slow + jog).
When I got to the Energy Lab I felt pretty good and kept up the effort all the way out and back. I was really in a flow now. A dramatic difference from last year where I was in constant Shakespearean mind drama - to walk or not to walk. I checked in with myself and realized if I was going to end this strong, this was the moment. The wheels were going to stay on, so what was I waiting for?
I started to increase my effort. I got into the most amazing flow the next 6 miles as I watched the sunset over the lava fields. I remember the volunteers that morning and my realization of who I was and the massive goal I was about to achieve.
I began to use an “I am and more” mantra. I am an… athlete that races Kona twice, that does Norseman and Kona, that is crazy strong, that can do all the hard things, that loves to suffer, that knows who she is, that is a savage, that doesn't take shit, that has a big heart, that is a mom, that does stop… and more. I went through this over and over, gaining strength with every stride.
I was laser focused in those last miles firmly in the pain zone of max effort in a long day. I was definitely on the bonk borderline but I hung with swigs of coke at every aid station. I slowed down at the finish to make sure I had it to myself. I high fived as I went in, which I never do. I savored it. I crossed and saw Azella and my parents losing their minds. I blew kisses. I smiled.
I ended up with a 40 min course PR and completed my 4th World Championship (3 IMs and 1 Xtri), 10th full distance triathlon. Was it the marathon of my dreams? No. But finishing Kona strong was better than anything I imagined for the day.
Finish Time: 11:19
78th out of 324 (Top 25%, yes!)
6ish SIS gels
All the water
Coke after mile 14
Kona gave me so much more than I expected. This island is a special place. Last year this island pushed and broke me and left me with many lessons to learn this last year after. This year I am stronger, braver, more open, more me. The lessons I learned throughout this year all showed up on race day. This race asks so much of you, but when you show up and go all in, up leveled is the only way you can leave.
Thank you to the 2000+ women that went all in on themselves and on this race. Make no mistake, the collective success we all had a part in changed the game for women in this sport and 100% changed the life of my daughter and I imagine many more girls for generations to come.
Participation in sports matter, equity in sports matters, women's role on the race course matters. There is no going back, only forward.