In the several days leading up to the race, I wish I could tell you that I was excited and happy to be in Kona and preparing for race day. In reality, however, I have to admit that I was scared out of my mind. I was grumpy, I didn’t feel well, the heat and humidity were a big concern, and in some ways, I was dreading race day. However, I continually reminded myself that it was an honor and a privilege to be racing in the Ironman World Championships, that I had gladly accepted this challenge, that I was physically prepared for the race, and I was going to figure out a way to get out of my funk and be ready for race day. I had no doubt that I was going to cross the finish line, and likely even have a great result, I just knew that it was going to be a tough and painful journey. Bannink always ‘shows up‘ for race day, I reminded myself.
Race day came with sun and warm in the forecast and I was ready to go. While getting body marked in the dark, a childhood friend who I had not seen in 15 years called out my name and that short reunion seemed to ease the morning tension and bump up the excitement of the day. I got everything settled in transition and had plenty of time to find a quiet place to relax before the race. 30 minutes to go and we started to prep for the swim, waved to our cheering section (Heidi, Emma and Chad), found Timex teammates (Tim, Jackie and Mike) and headed into the water. Based on the layout of the buoys, I decided to start toward the left side of the start line and near the front. The cannon sounded and the mass started kicking and splashing. I got bumped around quite a bit at the start, but not the worst start I have experienced, and I was even able to find some clear water to swim my own race. Even though the buoys seemed to stretch on for miles, it was just a crossing of Devil’s Lake, I reminded myself, and swam steady to the turn around. Half way, feeling good, and the water opened up on the return trip so I was able to get in a groove. The coolest part of the swim was seeing the navy ship out in the harbor and noticing that the cadets were surrounding the deck and standing at attention in their stark white uniforms. I finished up the swim with the entire Aquasphere crew going nuts (thanks guys!), glad that part was over, and knowing that would be the easiest part of the day for me.
T1 went just fine, but I wasn’t in a huge hurry to get out of there, making sure I was slathered in sunscreen and had retrieved everything I needed from my bag. Then it was off to ride ‘The Dutchess’, the absolute fastest, lightest, most comfortable bike I have ever ridden (my new Trek TTX). We had a long day ahead of us and I was looking forward to the ride. I keep my effort easy in the beginning miles and just tried to keep my power output and perceived effort easy and comfortable. Going through ‘hot corner’ I heard my name from several groups and felt lucky to have so many people out here cheering for me. Then, it was a long ride out of town. I got passed by A LOT of people on the bike and I was totally OK with that, I wasn’t racing anyone else but myself. It was a little frustrating when a pack of about 50 guys swallowed me up and spit me out, I couldn’t get out of that mess fast enough. The weather started to heat up through the lava fields (I heard mention of 100deg) and I doused myself with water at every aid station along the way. These water stops were a little piece of heaven every 7 miles and a big part of my heat management strategy. The climb up to Hawi, the turnaround, was much longer than I expected and I enjoyed the challenge, reminding myself how much I like to climb and how much fun it would be to descend on the return. I made the turn through town, and a couples mile out on the descent I saw JB making the climb. Yes, he made it through the swim! This gave me a boost until the most challenging part of the ride, miles 70-100ish and a nice stiff headwind. This is definitely where the heat of the day, the body fatigue and my waning emotional energy made it tough to press ahead. I was nearing the end of this ride, so I continued with the self talk “this is a privilege, come on Bannink- you can do this, remember that this is an opportunity!” And then a gift, as we turned towards town for the last 10 miles, the wind became a cross/tail wind and I cruised in the remaining miles. Several of the pros were already headed out past the half-marathon on the run and I was looking forward to progressing towards that part of my day. I jumped off my bike and part ran, part walked, and part hobbled into transition, sat down and decided that this was a pretty good spot to take a little rest.
The cool towel on my shoulders, the shade, the stillness, it all felt amazing… so this is my excuse for my snail pace T2. I stopped in the potty (my only stop of the day) and I was back out on the road again, taking it easy as I knew this could turn into a very long day if I didn’t pace this well. I felt surprisingly OK starting out the run and knew my nutrition had been solid on the bike (1600 cals, 1000mg Na+/hour, and as much water as I could drink). I was put-zing along with plenty of company, taking in water, dumping water on my head, and stuffing sponges in my top at every aid station. I grabbed a powergel when I felt like I need it, probably 2 per hour and continued to pop the salt every few miles. This seemed to work well for the entire marathon, in addition to dumping ice down the front of my bra… now that was a good idea. I hit the first run turn around at 5 miles and saw JB just a little later heading the other direction. I was concerned about him as I thought he would have passed me by now, but he was positive and much too cheery at 8 hours into this gig. I got just past 10 miles and took the right turn up Palani drive (steep!), my first ‘permission to walk’ and I did. I saw Heidi and Emma cheering me on and that definitely helped. At the top, on the turn back onto the Queen K, my mental/physical fatigue took over and I had a hard time motivating for the run. This section, from 11-16 miles would prove to be the most mentally challenging part of the day. The turn to the energy lab could have been over the next hill, or the next hill, or the next hill, and this was getting to me. I walked some sections of the uphills, battling in my mind, trying to convince myself to keep running and dissolve any excuse I could come up with that would allow me to walk. A positive along this section was that I got to see all of my teammates (Tim, Mike, Jackie, Sergio) and many friends (Mike, Jim, Mike) as they were in their final miles heading toward the finish. Some of them looked great, and others not so great, and we all knew that we were out here together, sending some encouragement across the course with just a little nod or a thumbs up. Then finally, I saw the solar panels at the top of the energy lab and I knew I only had 10 miles to go. Down into the lab and hit mile 18, only 8 to go, then on the way up and out, the final stretch of the Queen K. I hit 20 miles, only a 10K to go, and said to the guy next to me, ‘lets get this bleeeep over with!” I continued to walk the aid stations as I had done since mile 10, but was able to keep running in-between. My quads and my brain were fried, and I was able to keep pushing, knowing that this would all be over very soon. I desperately wanted to walk up the last hill, but by the grace of God, I found another nudge of motivation to crest that hill, pounded my quads down Palani, cruised around the block, then down onto famous Ali’i Drive. I was going to do this thing… the crowd’s cheers were deafening and I was smiling. I crossed the line in 11:11:37. What a journey, what a day!
-My goal was to race 11 hours, figuring on a 1 hour swim, 6 hour bike, and 4 hour run. I met those predictions within minutes and feel very proud of that.
-I think I ended up 27th in my age group, and to be honest, I don’t even care. This day wasn’t about placement, it was about achieving a goal, doing something that most people can’t even dream of achieving, enjoying the opportunity to race on the world stage and capping off my short course race season with an IM finish.
-And saving the best for last… Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who supported me on this adventure. Your encouragement leading up to the race, your excitement for my opportunity, and your desire to share in my day truly kept me motivated and encouraged throughout the day. Thank you for your inspiration and support.
Thanks to my sponsors: Timex, Trek, Bontrager, Aquasphere, Powerbar, my localMadison Trek Store and the Wisconsin Fertility Institute, I could not have done this (or afforded it!) without your support.
And a special thanks to Heidi for making the trip to be my biggest fan and carry me around (literally!) in the days following the race.