Monday, November 7, 2011

Race Report: Big Kahuna Half Ironman {part 1}

I did it.  I am a {half} ironman.

I know, I know.  This post is long overdo and funny enough it has been almost completely written for a month but I just couldn't press post.  For one, work (more on that later) and have been swamped with 50 hour work weeks but more so I was struggling to convey my emotions about this race.  When I finished I was so happy to have finished but a week later I was really upset with my performance and realized while I went in wanting just to finish (or at least that is what I told myself) I wasn't really happy with just "finishing."  I had set a goal and missed it.  Some races I am a-ok with that but this race was too big to "just finish."  Thus, my initial report was fairly negative and I didn't want to convey that it was a negative race because despite missing my overall goal I did hit my swim and bike goal.  These last 6 weeks I have been working has given me a chance to step back from running, biking, blogs etc for a bit and take a break and put things in perspective.  I think I have finally found my groove - have gotten back into training - and am slowly learning to balance life as an attorney and life.

I won't be gone as long this time but I have found that when life becomes hectic blogging takes a backseat and I have to be okay with that. 

So, without further ado, (I know the suspense has been killing you these last two months), my Big Kahuna Half Ironman race report! 


To say I was restless the night before was an understatement.  I barely slept a wink and when the alarm went off at 4:00 am I sprung out of bed.  Our hotel was a mere mile from the race start but the transition area opened at 5:00 am and I learned from my last tri that location is key and I wanted an end spot.  I was there at 5:05 am and nabbed a prime spot on the end.  At 5:25 am I was all set up and body marked and had nothing to do but wait until the race started at 7:00 am.

I tried to eat and managed to choke down 1/2 a protein bar and 1/2 a banana but my nerves got the best of me.

Around 6:45 they started doing general announcements so we headed to the beach.  I was in the 4th wave so my race would be starting at 7:15.  I did a small warm up swim and instantly grateful to have decided to rent a full arm and leg wetsuit (from Sports Basement - only $25 for a week rental!!)  I was toasty warm in the high 50 degree water.

Swim - 1.2 miles

Big Kahuna is an ocean swim out and around the Santa Cruz pier.  Another race no-no, I never practiced swimming in the ocean.  Other than sharks I wasn't too worried though.  I knew I could go the distance and luckily the ocean was calm that morning.

They started the race with an "authentic" Hawaiian welcome and right at 7:00 am the elite and 24 and under men were off. 

Pretty soon the 7:10 wave left and it was time to file into the corral.  It was a beach start which meant when the horn sounded we ran into the water.

By this point I wasn't really nervous anymore.  The adrenaline was pumping and I just wanted to go.

Once we hit the water I immediately figured out what was going to make ocean swimming hard - breathing!  For the first five minutes it seemed that every time I took a breathe a wave was rolling by at the same time and I was taking in LOTS of saltwater.

The buoys were a little hard to sight.  I thought we only had to swim to the end of the pier and then turn right and head back into shore.  Oh no, we swam past the pier to a buoy, straight out to another buoy and then into shore and due to the swells they were kinda hard to see.  I managed to "swim the tangents" for lack of a better description very well though and minimize any extra distance.

I ended up LOVING the swim!  Maybe it was the wetsuit covering me so I never encountered anything gross touching my skin, or the fact that I couldn't see in the water so nothing freaked me out or maybe it was hearing the sea lions under the wharf as we swam by.  Whatever it was the swim was awesome.  I quickly found myself amongst the leaders as we rounded the first buoy.  As we rounded the second buoy I was passing green caps (men from the 7:10 wave).  I love that I actually get to pass people when I swim - such a change from the other sports.

Pretty soon the red arch was in sight and not soon after the sand was underneath my feet.  As I stood up I looked for a clock but couldn't see anything.  As I grabbed my Garmin from my dad he said 31 minutes.  31 minutes what? I thought.  31 minutes slower than he thought?  It wasn't til I looked down and saw he meant a 31 minute swim.  I figured there was no way that could be right - he must have started my watch too late.  That was only three minutes slower than I swam the .92 miles at the California Olympic Triathlon and that was about a quarter mile shorter than this race.

Goal Time: 45:00 or under
Actual Time: 31:40:2
4/35 Age Group (Women 25-29)
111/620 Overall


The transition area was about a quarter mile away from the transition area so I decided to have one of my "crew" (aka parents, husband and in-laws) have some shoes waiting for me as I exited the water as the thought of stepping on rocks the whole way was not appealing.  The transition went smoothly and I took my time to make sure I didn't forget anything.

Goal Time: 10:00 or under
Actual Time: 9:30

Bike - 56 miles

One of my main concerns was getting my broken toe which I "claimed" was 80% healed at the time but think it was really 80% broken into my bike shoe.  Oh it was a tight fit and that toe screamed at me for all 56 miles but I wasn't about to give into it. 

I profiled the course before the race and it appeared to only have a little over 1000 feet of climbing.  Of course, my garmin had some issues during the bike and will not load the bike portion of the race so I was unable to get an elevation profile but lets say the course felt a lot more than 1000 feet of climbing.

It was an out and back course and in my relentless search for race reports for this race (which there are few) many people talked about the strong headwind.  I had it in my head the wind would be on the "out" portion of the ride.  Thus, for the first 25ish miles, despite the hills (oh the hills) I was keeping a 17mph - 18mph pace and thinking to myself, "if I am flying against the wind the way back must be awesome."

Then I turned around and was immediately hit by a huge wall of wind.  I wish my garmin would have recorded my times as I would love to compare the time it took me to get "out" versus the time it took me to get "back".  I was pushing with everything I had in me and going about 11/12 mph and being passed left and right.  This race had a very fast field and men and women were whizzing by me.  I tried really hard to keep focusing on the fact that I was still hitting my goal of maintaining a 15mph pace but I was getting really frustrated since I felt I was doing so good (for me) and yet I was still being passed like crazy.  Luckily, my "crew" stopped at 5 points on the way back to cheer me on and I needed it every time (although I kept thinking to myself if I see them one more freakin' time I am going to jump in the car with you and please don't stop stopping in case I get a flat and need your help).

freakin' hills that never ended

this is my "this sucks but I am still smiling" face
At the time, I thought the hills + the wind made the ride tough, and don't get me wrong, it was a tougher course than I anticipated, but now that can look back on it the pain was definitely more mental than physical (minus the toe).  I have had countless tough rides - heat, rain, over 4000 feet - but this one was mentally rough.  While I felt good about my performance - this was the speed I trained hard to maintain - the amount of people passing me made me think otherwise and I wasn't mentally strong enough to let that not affect me. 

Despite my bad attitude, the course was beautiful set along side the pacific coastline.  I fueled every 15 miles and that seemed to be perfect.  I never felt hungry or fatigued.  Once I hit 52 miles we were back in town and I was able to hear the crowd.  At this point I knew I could hit my goal of under 3:45 so I just put my head down and channeled all my negative thoughts into those last 4 miles keeping a 18/19 mph pace.  

Goal Time: 3:45:00 or under
Actual Time: 3:41:37/15.2 mph avg
33/35 Age Group (Women 25-29) - speedsters I tell you!
592/620 Overall


Like T1 I wanted to take my time and just make sure I had what I needed.  As I pulled off my bike shoe and slipped my foot into my running shoe I instantly knew this was going to be a long 13.1 (how long I did not anticipate).  It was fairly numb at that point (good and bad) and for a split second almost decided to make the tri and "aqua bike" but kept telling myself that there is "no greater pain than that of quitting."  My goal was to complete the distance and if I had to walk so be it - I was going to cross that finish line and with that I grabbed by water belt, threw on a visor and made my way out to the run. 

Goal Time: 10:00 or under
Actual Time: 5:20.9

Run - 13.1 miles

The run was an out and back as well along the coast and some dirt trails.  My throbbing toe told me I wasn't going to run the whole 13.1 so from the get go I set a run/walk scheme - run .5, walk .1 and was able to maintain this for the first 4/5 miles.  By mile 6 it was more like run .5/walk .5 and by mile 8 is was just plain walk.  And walk I did til mile 12.

At the turnaround they have a little totem guy with a lei on.  I have no idea why I loved that so much but I think because we were seriously out in the middle of nowhere on a cliff with the Pacific ocean crashing on the rocks and here is this totem with a lei.  Maybe I was just delirious?

I will say I know my running was not up to par due to back injury.  While I had completed a good number of short runs the longest training run I did was 8 miles.  Had my toe not been broken I can 110% say I would have been faster, however, if I am being truly honest with myself, despite all my training, I definitely gave running the short end of the stick.  I think it came down to the fact I was terrified of re-injuring myself.  Swimming and biking never hurt my back but running did and I needed to do this race - for me.  Symbolically it was like the icing on the cake for 2011.  2010 held so many "personal goal" disappoints, a half ironman being one of them, I needed to know I could finish this and running potentially meant further injury which meant I might not race.  Was this smart?  No.  If someone else did it would I say they were nuts?  Yes.  Will I make the same mistake again?  Absolutely not.

Much of the course is open and there are other runners running and people milling around not a part of the race.  So many of them passed on encouraging sentiments that it really helped make the run not so lonely (obviously there weren't much of us left out there at that point).

The last mile of the run has you running on the beach.  I was amazed with the amount of spectators still out cheering.

I dug deep for that last mile ultimately focusing on that it would be yards until I was a {half} ironman.

And can we discuss these finishing pictures for a minute?  My family was so excited they temporarily spaced on their camera duties and these are the pictures I have crossing the finish line.  I swear I did throw my hands up and jump over the finish line - I didn't cross looking like death.

I immediately sat my butt in the sand and ripped off my shoe.  I honestly thought I might have to amputate my toe.  One my toe could breath it sank in I just finished 70.3 miles - I was a {half} ironman!!  (although, I distinctly remember mumbling NEVER again as I lay in the sand, although I said that after my first half marathon in 2007 and well, we all know how that turned out!)

Goal Time: 2:45:00 or under
Actual Time: 3:28:03/15:53 avg {gulp, that is hard to swallow}
35/35 Age Group (Women 25-29)
613/620 Overall

34/35 Age Group (women 25-29)
600/620 overall

Despite the few disappoints I had - both beyond my control (toe) and in my control (run) - I have to focus on the fact that I hit my goals on the swim and the bike and at the end of the day crossed the finish line after going 70.3 miles.  Now, I don't want that statement to come across as settling - when I set a goal I have every intention on following through with it and it kills me when I fall short but this was a learning experience, a new distance, and I am armed with knowledge for the next one (ha, you had to know I would be back for more).  My very first marathon taught me that and I while I walked away accomplished I knew I had more in me and came back six months later for a 56 minute PR.  I know a 7:00 (or faster) 70.3 is in me and I intend to accomplish it.
When I crossed the finish line they had a bunch of food, which looked delicious but the thought of eating seemed very unappetizing at that moment in time so I just grabbed water and we headed home.  I passed out as soon as we hit the road and woke up an hour later and we were just about home.  At that moment I had the most intense craving for Taco Bell nachos.  I can't even tell you the last time I had Taco Bell but I had to have those nachos - fake cheese and all.  Kevin looked at my crazy-eyed but knew better than to mess with a girl who just went 70.3 miles and indulged me in my request.  

Now that time has passed and I can reflect more clearly I can say with confidence it was crazy, it was tough but it was worth it, and I can't wait to do it all over again in 2012!
Pin It!


  1. Yay so glad you posted this. First, you looked amazing! Love the outfit choice and your bike and everything. Great photos family!

    Second, I can relate to being disappointed with finishing times but honestly be sooooo proud of yourself---HIM is a long way to go. You finished you rocked the swim and the bike and ran a half marathon with a freakin' broken toe!

    Third, let's do the next one together!

    Fourth, 2013 FULL IRONMAN?? (I'm considering but I want a solid half under my belt first.)

  2. What a great race! While I can sympathize with being disappointed at not reaching a goal, you can only do the best with what you're dealt on a given day, and it looks like you killed it. Seriously, your swim? I could probably drown in faster than 31min, but that's about it :) So glad you shared.

  3. Great job! I have to say, I felt the EXACT.SAME.WAY. after my half ironman. I felt I wasn't fast enough even though my goal was to finish. Now in retrospect I am SOOOO happy I finished! I am gaining confidence in my abilities. Soooo, what next race do you want to do? Auburn Triathlon (May 2012) or maybe a FULL IRONMAN?? (EEEKS!!) If you sign up for one I will too!!!

  4. Good job! Loved seeing your tweet about this and loved seeing the pics of Santa Cruz. How fun!
    Sorry to hear your toe was acting up, but congrats again on finishing big!

  5. Um, you did a half ironman with a freakin' broken toe!!! (I was going to use that exact wording even before I read Alisa's comment there). You have only major things to be proud of!! Your swim rocked and I bet your toe affected your bike (and obviously your run). The good news is when you are 100% healthy you're going to smash your goal time for sure. Awesome job. I'm in awe.

  6. Congratulations!! That is awesome and an awesome time!


I appreciate your comments. Thanks for taking the time to leave one!