I think it’s safe to say racing on the Big Island of Hawaii is just about every Ironman or aspiring Ironman’s dream, but one that only comes true for a very small percentage of athletes. It’s a race I have spent years watching online, sneaking peaks and updates during swim meets, and using as an excuse to stay in and get some homework done on a Saturday night in college. It’s something I could only picture in my wildest dreams when I first started my journey in this crazy sport. Heck, I could barely even picture myself completing an Ironman at that point in time. However, those who know me and those who know me well, know when I set my mind to something I will give 110% to be darn sure it happens. And that’s exactly what I did. At the completion of my first Ironman Lake Placid in 2016, not only did I realize I had developed a seriously expensive “hobby,” I also realized I was very quickly showing quite a bit of potential. After a week or two of post-race reflection, I set my sights on Kona. There was a period of time when I was still “resting and recovering” from Lake Placid and anxiously anticipating the start of my new training plan that my parents would admit the only thing I could talk about was racing in Hawaii and how I was going to make it happen. This conversation quickly translated from talking about to plan to talking about and reflecting on each workout (thanks Mom and Dad for putting up with non-stop Ironman talk). Yes, it became an obsession, but I truly believe the obsession is what kept me motivated and focused. Fast forward to Ironman Lake Placid 2017 where I crossed the finish line in 11:42.53, good enough for second place and a qualifying spot for Ironman World Championships. In a matter of seconds, I realized my dreams were very quickly becoming reality. I was so excited, I didn’t even realized pro Andy Potts placed my medal around my neck until the next morning when looking at a photo (which made for a good story when I ran into him in Hawaii).
Fast forward a few more months and before I realize it, I’m on a plane with a final destination of KOA. Leading up to the race I was feeling every bit of emotion; excited, nervous, anxious, blessed, very exhausted both physically and mentally as nearly 50 weeks of training were beginning to catch up to me. However, landing in Hawaii and feeling the overwhelming rush of energy and excitement being surrounded by 2000+ others with the same goal as me was enough to have me forgetting about the negative.
Let me first start out by saying, this course is challenging, both physically and mentally. With a few ocean swims under my belt and having only ridden a brief portion of the bike course from the turn off the Queen K halfway to Hawi and back and only run the energy lab leading up, I went into the race nearly blind, something I’m not quite accustomed to having spent a majority of my triathlon careen training on the Lake Placid course. I’d spent weeks reading every Kona report and watching every video I could find, but there’s nothing quite like the muscle memory you develop from spending hours upon hours training where you are racing. However, I believe this ignorance made the race both challenging and rewarding at the same time.
4:00AM – I wake up, well rested, 15 minutes before my alarm is set to go off. The four hour time difference was very helpful in keeping me on a good sleep schedule as I was in bed by 9 (I also got an extra bonus hour of sleep compared to the 3AM wake up call for Lake Placid). I start my morning off with some meditation (thanks BJ and Jess over at Yogi Triathlete – for those who are unaware, I witnessed a pretty horrific cycling accident right before 70.3 world’s and these two have been a godsend in assisting with that healing process). I’m feeling pretty excited although it hadn’t 100% sunk in that I was about to race at IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS. With nearly an hour before we were scheduled to leave to head down to transition, I had plenty of time to get dressed, get my breakfast in, and prepare for the day.
5:00AM – We head down to transition and I meet up with Jim and Chad. Kona is ALIVE and fully of energy, it was unreal. I spend some time sitting with Chad and Jim, talk to my parents on the phone, and put my tri tats on before passing off my backpack and heading into transition. I walk into transition only to find out my tri tats I had applied myself, for some unexplained reason other than Ironman finding someway to assert their authority in the littlest ways, were not sufficient. If anyone reading this has ever used tri tats, you know how difficult they are to remove, and they are only that much more difficult to remove being freshly applied. So, for the next 10 minutes, I stood there as volunteers ripped multiple strips of packing tape off my arm and scrubbed me raw with rubbing alcohol only so they could apply their identical tri tats. I cried a little, and was aggravated at how rude the volunteers were, but I wasn’t going to let this ruin my day. Off to weigh-in I went. Chad was fortunate enough to get a VIP pass the day before the race (Thank you Ironman) and was able to spend most of my time in transition with me. I pumped up the tires on my bike, set up my nutrition, watched the pros start, and we were off to find a quiet place to sit while we waited for it to be time for the AG women to get in the water. An emotional chat and a hug from Chad and I was off to wait for the canon to sound amount the sea of other pink swim caps.
SWIM – First things first, this swim is absolutely beautiful. The water is crystal clear and you can see everything beneath you, which definitely made the 2.4 miles pass much faster. This was my first “mass start” and it was definitely interesting. As we sat there treading water for about 5 minutes, we kept getting pushed out by the waves and yelled at to move back towards shore, which made it difficult to maintain any sort of organization. When the canon finally sounded, there were arms and feet flying everywhere. It took most of the first mile for me to finally find a place among all the women swimming, just in time to catch up to and start trying to pass the men who were at the back of the pack. The water was relatively calm (for the ocean at least) and the saltiness didn’t bother me as much as it did in Galveston. I’m a pretty strong swimmer, so I didn’t notice the cross-current much either. Things went pretty smoothly, or as smooth as they could, until we reached the pier and were forced to fight for space as we were all trying to funnel into 4 ft wide steps to exit the swim. For some reason here, they current seemed much stronger as well. All in all, it was a pretty solid swim though. I swam a 1:05.40, less than 5 minutes slower than my IMLP swim on the pristine Mirror Lake.
T1 – Transition was a bit of a shit show for me. My volunteer didn’t speak english, so she was pretty useless, something that has made me realize how fortunate we are to have someone to help with the simplest tasks like tightening bike shoes and putting on sunscreen. I dumped my bag out, put on my socks, shoved my feet into my bike shoes, and tried to get some nutrition in me (coconut oil, one honey stinger gel, and half an ego bar). I tried to ask the volunteer to put sunscreen on me, but apparently she’s never used aerosol spray sunscreen because she couldn’t figure it out. I tried to do it myself, but my hands were too wet and slippery to get a grip on the container. Frustrated and not wanting to waste anymore time, I ran out and was on my way to find my bike (a decision I am still regretting as I sit here and write this report 4 days later).
BIKE – I had a great spot in transition, so my bike was pretty easy to find. We spent the first 10 or so miles riding through town and the streets were packed with people. I thought Lake Placid was packed with spectators, but I was so wrong. I don’t think there was a single empty space on the side of the road the entire 5 miles out and back and everyone was cheering. At mile 10, we turn onto the Queen K. I was feeling really good at this point. In my last couple of races, I had been feeling a bit of tightness in my adductors and psoas for a decent portion of the start of the bike and I had none of that in Kona! I was pushing 20+ mph and feeling really great, on pace to split a 5:45 which would have been a 30 minute bike PR for me. All was well until about mile 30 and I felt like I hit a wall of wind (not going to lie, I was a little bitter when I read the pro race reports and they talked about how amazing the tailwind was turning back onto the Queen K, it pays to start earlier). I pushed my way the final 10 miles to the turn to Hawi and tried not to focus on my pace as I watched all the pro men fly by in the opposite direction. Looking back, I recognize I likely made it through this section minutes before Matt Russell’s accident, which I am feeling quite fortunate for as having to witness this or the aftermath would have added a huge additional challenge for me mentally. My heart goes out to Matt and his family and I wish him the best in his recovery process! Aside from the wind, the bike was pretty uneventful for me. One minor incident occurred when a rider in front of me stopped suddenly in the travel lane of the aid station at Hawi let me to make a quick maneuver around her and maybe yell a few unnecessary words. I was making sure to grab a banana and fresh bottle of water at every aid station and kept on top of my noun electrolyte. I have never raced with base salts before, tried it in Lake Placid my first year and thought I was going to vomit after one small lick, but knew this race was a whole different ball game. I forced myself to keep on top of the salts, taking two licks every 30 minutes. By the end, I was actually looking forward to that 30 minute mark! I have found ways to carry all my nutrition on my bike and decided not to do a special needs bag, so I made the turn in Hawi and was quickly on my way fighting the crosswinds back toward the Queen K. All I could think about that whole time was how amazing the tailwind was going to feel. Surprise, surprise; I’ve said it before and it still holds true to this day, triathlon is the only sport where you can experience a headwind both out and back on an out and back course. It’s some weird phenomenon I have yet to understand, but the tailwind the pros were fortunate enough to ride through had switched to a head wind (or at least thats what it felt like). The rest of the ride back I was torn between wanting to push harder but not wanting to sacrifice my run, remembering what Jesse Thomas had said in his Kona preview video I had watched a few weeks before. My quad was starting to bother me, a lingering issue from Chatty, and I was so looking forward to being off my bike. I’ve been thinking about how badly I need a power meter to improve my cycling, and this race has only confirmed that thought. Time to start saving for a post-Christmas investment. I rolled back into transition on my bike in 6:47.39, not something I was particularly proud of but it was time to focus on the run.
T2 – My volunteer in T2 was amazing, made up for the morning. She quickly realized the extent of my sunburn resulting from a lack of sunscreen on the bike and made sure to lather me up to prevent it from getting any worse. I laced up my shoes, downed some more coconut oil, threw on my visor and bib and was on my way.
RUN – I was so excited to be running. The first 10 miles of the run went really well, reaching every aid station at a pretty solid pace, grabbing my two cups of water and two orange slices, and continuing on my way. I was feeling exhausted, but I wasn’t ready to give up. At mile 10 I met Chad and Matt at the Base tent where they gave me some strange purple concoction they called “rocket fuel” and pretty much forced me to drink it. It has a strange taste, but they assured me it would help. Jim was there to take some video to update my dad, and they soon sent me on my way. I knew my pace was going to slow slightly as its a gradual 6 mile climb up the Queen K to the energy lab, but I knew I could keep running. And I knew if I could just get myself to the energy lab, I would have a little change of heart as I was looking forward to this section so much. As I ran up the Queen K, I was blessed with the most beautiful sunset over the ocean, which made me think a little less about the pain and a little more about how grateful I was to be racing in this amazing place. I thought about Nick and the strength he’s given every single one of us on Team BlueLine, and I thought about Barry, cancer sucks, but on this team NO ONE FIGHTS ALONE. Through their strength, I pushed through and before I knew it, I was handed a glow stick and turning into the energy lab. I probably looked a bit like a little kids swinging my glow stick around in the air and admiring the light it let off as a ran, but racing in the dark was a new experience for me and I was excited, not to mention at some point over the course of 140 miles, you are going to lose your sanity eventually. The energy lab did not disappoint; it was everything I was anticipating an more. The aid stations were a giant party with loud music and lights flashing and I could feel the energy (maybe that was the rocket fuel kicking in). I ran down and back out of the energy lab and thought to myself this is it, you have a silly little 10k to go and then you’re done. The run back into town was dark, very dark, I couldn’t really see anything so it was pretty uneventful. The time passed quickly and eventually I heard some loud music and realized it was the Base tent. I was almost back to Chad where he would pass off the flag! At this point, I realized I might be making my first trip to the med tent, despite how conscious I was of my fluid consumption and how much I was drinking, I was very dehydrated. I muttered something to Chad about meeting me at the med tent because I had only peed once and Matt replied with an energetic “THAT’S AWESOME, ME TOO!” Good enough for a quick giggle and I was on my way running down Palani (thank god we were going down this time and not up). I passed Pete, our friend from Chatty, and he gave a little shout out for Team BlueLine and said “the flag will be flying at the finish line,” which made me so excited to get there. A quick little stroll down Kuakini and I made my turn onto Ali’i drive. I threw my flag up and was immediately overwhelmed with the number of people there. Watching the race online doesn’t do the Kona finish line any justice. For a quarter of a mile, the street was lined 10 deep with people screaming and yelling. I couldn’t help but smile as I felt the energy running down Ali’i drive. I had spent years dreaming about this moment, and it was happening. I crossed the finish line with the flag flying high in 12 hours, 34 minutes, and 26 seconds. It’s not a personal best, in fact, it’s my slowest time for a full to date, but the experiences I have taken away from this race and preparing for this race are far greater than the joy any time could have given me.
Thank you for all who have supported me on this journey; to my dad Gary Friedrich, mom Tina Friedrich, and brother Gavin Friedrich who were unable to join, but spent much of their day (and late night due to the 6 hour time difference) glued to their phones tracking every split, and for always being my biggest support system. To my friends and family who reached reached out before and after the race, and everyone who followed along at home waiting to see that I finished. To Jim MacDonald for being the first to say “I’m coming” when he realized my parents could not. To Chad Wallacefor flying all the way to Hawaii to surprise me for the race (sorry I ruined it)! And to my Team BlueLine family for constant unconditional love and support. Barry & Cindy, my unbiological TBL grandparents, who came all the way up to Lake Placid to sherpa for my race and great me as I crossed the finish line and qualified for Kona. Most importantly, thank you to every single one of you who have taken the time to read this, have believed in me, and have supported me in so many different ways along this journey.
Thank you to Mary for so graciously taking me under her wing in both Chatty and Kona, and offering me a place to stay. It’s been an amazing journey with you doing double worlds in one year and I can’t wait for Lake Placid next summer and to see what’s in store for us next!
Thank you to Elizabeth who took me under her wing before I even moved to Colorado and is always challenging me and pushing me to find my limits and discover the runner I have hiding deep down inside me. Sub 4 will happen next summer, I feel very good about this.
Thank you to my amazing friend Joshua Thompson who has helped me in more ways than possible to list, pushes and encourages me to reach beyond my limits, and most importantly puts up with all my aches and pains and always agrees to give me Active Release Treatments in exchange for food.
Thank you to Brian Gumkowski and Jess Gumkowski at Yogi Triathlete who have encouraged me to shoot for the stars since the first time I met them, and who were just a phone call and FaceTime away in a time when I needed them most.
I’ve connected with some amazing people along this journey and I couldn’t be more grateful.
There’s so many people who have reached out to me along this journey, and I can’t name everyone, but know the support is so greatly appreciated! And lastly, a HUGE thank you to all the volunteers who give up their day to make this event possible for all us athletes. We wouldn’t be Ironmen without you!
This journey isn’t over. I will be back for you Kona, we have unfinished business. For now, some much needed rest and recovery is in store.